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Based on materials presented in previous lectures, I have chosen to research Emile Durkheim’s theory of suicide. Suicide is often defined as ‘the act or an instance of taking ones own life voluntarily and intentionally’(www.merriam-webster.com ). I choose this topic because I believe it is sociologically significant and it is a common topic in the modern world. Sociologist Emile Durkheim began his work “Suicide” in the 1890s. Durkheim was was looking to establish a strong link between societal structure and people taking there own lives. Durkheim’s initial definition of suicide was that “suicide” is any death that is the immediate or eventual result of a positive (for example, shooting oneself) or negative (for example, refusing to eat) act, accomplished by the victim himself ( Suicide, 1897). Durkheim however, ran into many issues with this definition and later said, “The distinctive characteristics of suicide, therefore, is not that the act is performed intentionally, but rather that it is performed advisedly – the agent knows that death will be the result of his act, regardless of whether or not death is his goal” ( Suicide,(1897)). Durkheim set suicide into four categories; egoistic, altruistic, fatalistic and anomic.
Egoistic suicide is when a person commits suicide as they feel they do not belong to a society or have weak societal links. It is a response by people who feel completely isolated from society. Usually, people are integrated into society by work, familial bonds and community, and other social bonds. When these ties are weakened or lost through retirement or loss of family members and friends, the chances of egoistic suicide increase. Elderly people, who suffer these losses are most likely to fall victim to egoistic suicide.
Altruistic suicide is when one gives up their own life to save or benefit others, for the good of a group, or to save the traditions and honor of a society. It is often a result of excessive regulation of individuals by social forces such that a person may be moved to kill themselves for the benefit of a cause or society at large. Altruistic suicides are marked by cultural approval and benefit the social order. They occur in social groups where there is a low value placed on the individual. The principal loci of altruistic suicide are primitive societies and the modern military. In such social circumstances, people are so strongly integrated into social expectations and society itself that they will kill themselves to achieve collective goals.
Anomic suicide is when a person commits suicide due to lack of regulation. One might feel lost, confused, and highly stressed and therefore disappointed. Anomic suicide is an extreme response by someone who is experiencing anomie. Anomie usually occurs during times of intense social, economic, or political upheaval, which leads to quick and extreme changes to society and everyday life. Such circumstances can often leave someone feeling so confused and disconnected that they choose to take their own life.
Fatalistic suicide is suicide resulting from overregulation. Feeling overly controlled by the values and beliefs of society, the person becomes hopeless and believes they will never. Escape these oppressive external forces. Durkheim associated fatalistic suicide with preindustrial social orders, citing suicides of slaves as examples, and believed it to be of little contemporary relevance.
The stigma among mental health in past decades throughout societies has led to many unfortunate taboos about suicide and depression. “Someone, somewhere, commits suicide every 18 minutes” (www.bbc.com ). Suicide is the leading cause of death amongst young people, both in Ireland and worldwide. It is said that almost 1 million people die by suicide around the world each year (www.irishtimes.com ). Attempted suicides are much more common than actual suicides. Statistics show that there are about “120000 attempted suicides in Ireland each year” (www.irishtimes.com ). Studies recently conducted by the centers for disease control and prevention show that one in ten college students, and one in five high school students, admit to having seriously considered committing suicide. Based on previous studies, statistics show that “the overall suicide rate in Ireland is roughly 12 suicide deaths per 100,000 people” (www.irishtimes.com ). According to the latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures, “Ireland is 9th in the European Union rankings, and 37th out of 87 countries surveyed by the United Nations body” (www.irishtimes.com). Suicide statistics differ with gender and age. It is believed that women are more likely to attempt suicide or take part in other types of self-harming behavior. However, more men tend to succeed and die by suicide. Three times the amount of men die by suicide each year than women. “ Cases of suicide have been reported in people of all ages however, in men suicide is more common in people who are between 15-44 years of age. In women, suicide is more common between the ages of 45 and 74” (www.hse.ie ). Among men aged 25-34, “Ireland holds the 2nd highest suicide rate in the EU, with 34.6 suicides per 100,000 in 1996” (www.irishtimes.com ). Statistics show that Ireland also has the “2nd highest male-female suicide ratio in the EU, with 5.5 male suicides to one female suicide” (www.irishtimes.com ). However later, Durkheim claimed to have shown that, for each social group, there is a specific tendency to suicide that can be explained neither by the “organic-psychic constitution” of individuals nor by the nature of the physical environment (Suicide, (1897)). Durkheim believed that humans may commit suicide if they have too little interaction with society. This links to the Irish societal views on mental health as many people faced with a mental illness turn their backs on society in fear of judgment.
In previous years suicide has become a critical, national problem. While everyone’s reason for carrying out this tragic action is different there are a few main causes, the first being vulnerability to suicide. It is believed that there are several factors that determine how vulnerable a person is to suicidal thinking and behavior. The following factors make individuals more vulnerable; genetics and family history, lifestyle for example people who misuse alcohol and drugs, jobs, for example, people who experience low job satisfaction or are unemployed, relationships for example people who are socially isolated or lack close relationships often end up dying by suicide. Mental health conditions play a huge part in the number of suicide deaths that take place each year. It is said that 90% of people who attempt suicide or die from suicide have had one or more mental health conditions throughout their lives (www.hse.ie ) such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anorexia nervous and generalized anxiety disorder. Other factors that can increase risk of suicide include; experiences of sexual and physical abuse, experiences of emotional, parental and physical neglect, having a parent or close relative who died by suicide, being homeless and misusing drugs and alcohol (www.hse.ie). While it’s impossible to tell exactly how people are thinking there are a few signs that may indicate signs of suicide. When people are thinking of suicide they often talk about hurting or killing themselves, express extreme emotions of rage, revenge or anger, self-harm, show feelings of being trapped, withdraw or disconnect from friends, family and the community, show signs of anxiety, a change in sleep patterns and show signs of having no reason to live.
While writing about the topic of suicide I most certainly came across many shocking statistics however, I believe with a little more awareness raised with regard to this sociological topic, these figures could definitely be reduced drastically. We as humans all know things about suicide, but unfortunately not enough. To tackle this issue teachers, schools, families and universities all need to do more and learn more. “If you are depressed, reach out to someone. And remember, suicide is a permanent solution, to a temporary problem” (Robin Williams, 2013).
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