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SUICIDE
Introduction
In the year 2000, writer Malcolm Gladwell published a book titled The Tipping Point,
which attempted to explain and describe the different, seemingly mysterious sociological
changes that mark everyday life. Gladwell explored different case studies, such as the sudden
decrease of crime rate in New York City in the 1990s, to break down the phenomenon of a
social epidemic and isolate specific factors that acted as agents of change.
One such case study explored in Gladwells work, was the incident of teen suicide on the
island of Micronesia. In the 1970s and 1980s, there appeared to be an unstoppable epidemic
of teen suicide, with suicide rates ten times that of any other country in the world. In a society
where incidence of suicide had once been relatively unknown, teenagers had begun killing
themselves in increasing intensity, in curiously enough the exact same manner and under the
exact same circumstances. The occurrence of suicide had reached such a rate and acquired
such characteristics, that one could claim that it seemed to have developed contagious
properties.
To the common man, the concept of suicide is one that is generally associated with the
individual and the psyche. Suicide is spoken of or viewed through a psychological
perspective, incorporating factors such as constitutional predispositions like genetic factors
and personality traits, and environmental triggers ranging from cosmic factors to socio-
economic status, upbringing, and even specific events that instigate the act of suicide.
However, when speaking of a case such as Micronesia, it becomes impossible to view suicide
from a psychological perspective alone. In Micronesia, the trigger appeared to be one single
suicide committed by a young boy, who, reprimanded by his parents, resorted to killing
himself due to the shame and insult that he experienced. If one attributed the cause for suicide
in his case to a predisposition towards suicidal tendencies, it would then imply that his case
represented an anomaly. However, suicide rates sky-rocketed after this solitary incidence,
causing many more teenagers to commit suicide under similar circumstances.
Environmental factors could not explain the Micronesian case in a society where suicide
had once been a rare, almost inexistent phenomenon, a sudden increase in such incidences
would have to entail a revolutionary shift in the environment, whether one is speaking of
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cosmic or social factors. No such shift had taken place, rendering such an explanation
insufficient and unsatisfactory.
Gladwell explores and explains the cases of social epidemics, in this case suicide, through
three different factors that he had identified. One of them is the power of context, which
proposed that human behaviour is sensitive to, and is strongly influenced by, its environment.
If such an explanation is applicable to a phenomenon such as suicide, then perhaps a solely
psychological exploration would be insufficient to explain its causes. While dispositional
factors seem to play a part in the causation of suicide, there appears to be a larger force that
prompts its occurrence. Suicide then no longer becomes an individual issue it needs to be
studied from the perspective of society, manifested as a social fact by itself.
It is impossible to study suicide sociologically without speaking of Emile Durkheim and his
ground-breaking studies on what he considered was no exceptional phenomenon, but a social
fact sui generis. Durkheim strongly believed that suicide was a phenomenon, in the same
category as that of, say, incidence of disease, mortality rates and other such normal
occurrences, and that each society, as with the given examples, held a fixed and unique
propensity towards the same. His book, Le Suicide, explores the occurrence of suicide from a
sociological perspective, examining the different factors and causalities that contribute
towards the phenomenon.
Emile Durkheim and Suicide
Emile Durkheim began his work on suicide in 1897. His first task, as he elaborated, was to
study the order of facts to be studied, which could be determined under the tag of suicide
whether, among the different varieties of death, some types had commonalities that could be
objectively recognized, specific qualities that distinguished them as unique phenomena, and
sufficiently similar to the cases that would be categorized together, in this case under the
label of suicide.
Durkheims initial definition of the phenomenon of suicide was a largely ambiguous
statement, one consistent with a common-sense understanding that suicide was any death
caused by a positive (i.e. stabbing oneself, taking poison etc.) or negative (i.e. refusal to eat)
action, performed by the victim him/herself. However, Durkheim found this definition to be
unsatisfactory for one major reason. The definition failed to distinguish between two very
different kinds of deaths one where a sane man intentionally jumps off a building to end his
life, knowing full well the consequences of his actions, and a second scenario involving the
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example of a patient with schizophrenia, unable to distinguish between hallucinations and
reality, does the same, with no intention of inflicting the actual consequence.
Although the obvious solution would have been to restrict the definition towards actions
intended to cause the consequence of death, Durkheim delved further into the details of the
phenomenon of suicide. He proposed that a more distinguishing criterion to define suicide
would not be that the act is performed intentionally, but rather advisedly. The agent or victim
completely comprehends that death would be the consequence of his or her action, regardless
of whether or not death be the ultimate goal, and knowing so, carries out the action. Hence
Durkheim states, Suicide is applied to all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from
a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result.
According to Durkheim, suicide did not constitute a group of atypical phenomena, with no
connection to other forms of behaviour. He held the view that suicide had a place within
moral life as a whole that it did indeed hold relations with other, commonplace acts,
ranging from courageous to imprudent, by a linked series of transitional cases. Suicides could
be viewed as exaggerated forms of everyday practices, in this sense.
Furthermore, while Durkheim did not take away from the claim that cases of suicide involved
individual practices with individual causes and consequences and thus must be looked at
through a psychological perspective, he did hold strong his counter-claim that suicide could
be studied as a social phenomenon in isolation of the individual, as the manifestation of a
social fact. He proposed that each society had its individual aptitude for suicide, a rate
characteristic to that society the rate of mortality through suicide, characteristic of the
society under consideration, in his own words. This rate, Durkheim insisted, was both
permanent, as well as variable. The former characteristic suggests that the phenomenon was
the result of a collection of firmly distinct and effective characteristics; the later would
conclude that these very characteristics have a concrete, individual character, since they vary
with the individual character of the society in question.
These factors and reasoning left no doubt in Durkheims mind that the phenomenon of
suicide was indeed a social fact an occurrence that every society had a definite and unique
predisposition to. It was this predisposition that Durkheim looked to examining
sociologically. Durkheims project fell, then, into three natural parts: the first part examined
the extra-social causes which would prove sufficiently general as to impact social suicide
rates; the second looked at social causes and social types, extrapolating the various reasons
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that could influence the act of suicide, as well as the relation that they could have in the
different individual cases or types of suicide; the third and final part on the nature of suicide
as a social phenomenon explored this more precise relationship that it shared with other
social facts a detailed explanation of the suicide aptitude, its manifestation as a social
element, and the manners in which this collective tendency could be counteracted.
Extra-social Causes of Suicide
According to Durkheim, there seemed two sufficiently general kinds of extra-social causes
that could have an impact on the suicide-rate of a society. The first kind involved an
individual, psychological disposition, pathological or otherwise, that manifested directly as a
tendency towards acts of suicide. This would vary between the people of different countries it
societies. The second kind involved an effect of the physical environment, i.e. geography,
climate etc. that would indirectly have the same effect. Durkheim chose to examine both
carefully, before concluding the manifestation of the phenomenon of suicide as a social fact
sui generis.
Before examining Durkheims findings and analysis, it may be possible to draw assumptions
regarding the reasons for suicide from the two extra-social causes proposed by him. In
todays time of evolving mental health practices and research, it is common knowledge that
certain psychopathologies carry as definite symptoms the manifestation of suicidal tendencies
in the individual afflicted. Mental disorders such as bi-polar disorder, clinical depression,
even eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, carry as symptom suicidal thoughts in the
individual diagnosed as such. There have been studies conducted showing a definite genetic
and/or dispositional component that is involved in the case of many of these disorders, thus
predisposing an individual for its manifestation. One can then assume that the first extra-
social factor holds true, if following the syllogistic reasoning suicide, if treated as a
manifestation of an individual predisposition towards the same, in this case pathological in
nature, then becomes the sole result of the self-same extra-social cause.
Durkheim, however, refuted this claim by nullifying the two ways in which suicide could be
viewed as a pathological effect the first being viewing suicide as a pathology in itself, and
the second viewing it as a by-product or symptom of an illness (the scenario that was just
examined). In the first scenario, where suicide is treated as an illness in itself, it would have
to be classified as a monomania an illness in which the individual enjoys normalcy in
every single manner excepting one, where he showed signs of definite pathology. It is
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common knowledge today that there exists no such mental illness, which displays a single,
concrete abnormal symptom, while retaining normal behavioural patterns in every other
manner. Even at the time of Durkheims work, there existed no single, incontestable example
of monomania that could validate the existence of another such one in suicide.
In the second scenario, the phenomenon of suicide is examined in the reverse as a
manifestation as a symptom of an illness. However, Durkheim argued that not every case of
suicide revealed signs of pathology in the individual who acted so. He spoke of the four
different kinds of suicide associated with insanity maniacal, melancholy, obsessive and
impulsive. Maniacal suicide was a result of hallucinations or delusions suffered by the
patient, a result of a need to escape from imaginary outcomes, events or forces. This is an act
that can be readily associated with the mental disorder of schizophrenia, in todays times.
Here, the motive for killing oneself is imaginary. Melancholic suicide was connected with
feelings of extreme depression and loss of interest in life, causing the patient to no longer
rationally and sanely comprehend his or her connections with people or life as in the case of
patients with bi-polar disorder and clinical depression. Once again, in this scenario, the
motive driving oneself to death is can be deduced to be imaginary. Obsessive suicide could
be described as the result of a fixed obsession with the thought of death, rather than an actual
motive behind the act. In the case of an individual diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive
disorder, for example, if he or she finds preoccupation in thoughts of death, could commit
suicide simply due to the persistence of the idea in their head. In this case, then, there is no
observable motive for death. Finally, impulsive or automatic suicide similarly can be
concluded to have no observable motive, since the patient merely gives in to an impulse of
the moment a passing, inexplicable pull towards jumping off a bridge, or shooting oneself.
By outlining the accepted and studied reasons for suicide that are generally associated with
pathology, Durkheim explained that not every case of suicide is devoid of observable motive
or based on an imaginary one conclusively stating, then, that not every suicide is an insane
one. Take the example of a middle-class individual, stuck in a dead-end job, who commits
suicide because he or she feels no job satisfaction, and know that there is no realistic chance
of ever gaining the same for themself. Even the example of an individual who is neck-deep in
debt, and hence commits suicide to avoid certain imprisonment or similar legal action would
suffice. While it is possible to state that in both cases the individual might have suffered from
feelings of dejection and despair similar to the case of melancholic suicide, it is still possible
to separate them from cases of insanity in such that they contain objective and observable
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motive. Thus, while all of the above would constitute as definite reasons for suicide, it would
be impossible to categorize suicide as a purely pathological occurrence.
Durkheim thus dismissed a pathological disposition as the sole cause of the phenomenon of
suicide, and turned to examine normal dispositional factors such as race and heredity. The
question of race was soon turned down as a factor contributing towards suicide, however, as
Durkheims studies revealed great variations within a single social type itself. He proposed
that perhaps the different levels of civilization might be a much more decisive factor. The
idea of heredity was examined next as there had been, and still continue to be, many cases
where suicide is a recurring phenomenon within a family. The famous case of writer Ernest
Hemingways family is common knowledge today. Durkheim managed to overthrow this
proposition as a validation for the idea of suicide being heredity, by highlighting that most
cases of suicide that were studied where family members, too, committed suicide, involved
pathological conditions even as is in the case of Hemingway. That, then, would
subsequently be the transference of the pathological conditions from generation to generation
of which suicidal tendencies happened to be the sub-set, rather than the transmission of the
phenomenon of suicide itself.
Not to say that suicide only was a recurrence in families with solely a history of insanity
Durkheim looked into such cases as well. Here, he discovered contagion to be the primordial
motivating factor behind the recurring suicides. The first suicide that would occur would
often create a memory point an object, date or situation attached to the first scenario that
stuck on in the minds of family members, which continued to haunt them obsessively. Even
taking into account the pathology in Hemingways case of family suicide, it is interesting to
note that Ernest Hemingway killed himself in the same manner that his father Clarence did
(by shooting himself), and Ernest Hemingways grand-daughter, Margaux Hemingway, killed
herself on the day before her grandfathers 35
th
death anniversary. Durkheim displays cases
where once this memory point which seemed to be creating the contagion was removed,
the suicidal tendencies that people seemed to have been feeling disappeared.
Although normal and pathological conditions did influence the phenomenon of suicide, they
in no way seemed to constitute completely the reason for its occurrence. Durkheim proceeded
to examine whether then, in conjunction with cosmic factors such as climate, seasonal
temperature and so on, these factors might have a determinative effect on suicide.
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Durkheim rejected the proposition that climate had an influence on suicide rate by stating that
whereas the geographic distribution of suicide rates varied across latitude, and hence roughly
according to climate as well, these variations were better explained by social factors. The idea
that cold, foggy countries experienced higher rates of suicide was negated by Durkheim
revealing that for every country where statistics were available, suicide rates were higher in
the spring and summer than fall and winter. The counter proposition (the view of Italian
statisticians such as Ferri and Morselli) that suicide was the result of the mechanical influence
of heat on cerebral functions was also negated by Durkheim he elaborated that for this to be
true, one had to presuppose suicide to be committed in a state of extreme excitation, while the
converse reality remained that suicide frequently followed bouts of depression. A revised
theory regarding the contrast between the departing cold and beginning of a warm season
being the trigger for psychological dispositions towards suicide was also rejected due to the
statistics that revealed a steady increase and decrease in the rate from January to June, and
July to December (hot and cold seasons) respectively.
Durkheim discovered an interesting characteristic regarding the correlation between suicide
rates and cosmic factors, however; suicide rates, just as they seemed to increase during the
summer, also seemed on the rise during day than night, and so on. While a cause-and-effect
relationship between the direct factors involved heat and suicide there remained,
nonetheless, an unavoidably high correlation between the two. Keeping with his theory
regarding suicide being a social fact, Durkheim proposed an intermediary causal factor, one
that depended upon cosmic factors in order to influence suicide social life. Suicide
increased in those months, days, and times of day when social activity was most intense, with
the vice versa holding true.
By argument of elimination, Durkheim had narrowed down to the intensity of social life, and
hence social causes, as the factors influencing suicide. His next task was to study whether
there was one, solidary suicidal tendency that motivated the phenomenon, or whether they
could be classified into many, different types. Owing to the lack of data regarding the
statistics of suicides committed other than by factors of insanity, Durkheim decided to move
to an etiological, rather than morphological method, to determine this classification of types
and tendencies. He proposed that rather than ask why suicides resemble each other, it would
be prudent to first determine the social causes behind the phenomenon and study them; then,
by dissecting the similarities and differences, one could group them into a category, and a
corresponding type of suicide could be described.
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Types of Suicide
The first type of suicide that Durkheim successfully studied and described was Egoistic
Suicide. A very basic understanding of egoistic suicide would be to state that it occurs in a
society where there is a high degree of individualism and consequent low integration into
society. The lack of a cohesive social group and social ties leads to an absence of emotional
and social support. In a society with low integration, there is not a very high value placed on
human existence, and this coupled with the lack of social ties leads to detachment from life.
When all this culminates in an individual the feeling that there is no purpose to existence, he
or she commits egoistic suicide.
While all of this is accurate and explanatory in a general sense, to fully grasp the nuances of
this type of suicide, it would be best to look in a little more detail at Durkheims studies and
description of egoistic suicide. He began his studies by taking into consideration the
distribution of suicide rates across religions. What Durkheim discovered was that between
Catholics and Protestants, the suicide rate was extremely low for Catholics in comparison to
the Protestants. The suicide rate for Jews was even lower. As by his distinctive method of
elimination, he rejected all especially religious explanations for this statistic until he was left
with one essential difference between the faiths of Catholicism and Protestantism that the
latter permitted more free thinking and inquiry. He further illustrated this by explaining that
reflection developed only when necessary, when previous ideas or perspectives that once
guided conduct lost their meaning. Consequently, the actual meaning of Protestantism
permitting relatively more free thinking and inquiry was a result of the existence of fewer
common beliefs and practices the Roman Catholic Church was a more strongly integrated
church than the Protestant one. This explanation was consistent with three other observations
made by Durkheim: that the Jews, who possessed even higher ties of unitary and solidarity as
a community displayed the lowest suicide rates of the three; that of all the Protestant nations
studied, England had the lowest rate of suicide corresponding with the most integrated
Protestant church of the nations; and that the rate of suicide increased with the acquisition of
knowledge.
The lattermost observation, however, led to an anomaly, that in fact later not only reinforced
the original discovery, but also paved the way for clarifying the root cause. The Jews were a
highly educated society, with the lowest suicide rates how could this be so? For Durkheim,
however, they proved the proverbial exception. The Jews thirst for knowledge was not
aimed at replacing traditional moral beliefs, but at protecting themselves from the hostility of
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others through their superior knowledge. Thus, the presence of suicide in educated circles
was not only confirmed, but further narrowed down to when education looked towards
replacing weak traditional beliefs; when education was given another purpose, the tendency
seemed to subside.
Through this, Durkheim established that though there was a correlation between knowledge
and suicide, the former was not a cause for the latter. In fact, it seemed that the two were
independent effects of the same general cause the decline of traditional beliefs. Religion
seemed to be protecting people from society not because of its moral condemnation of
suicide, but because it formed a society of its own values and ideas that had a consensus
amongst the people of the social unit, and hence integrated them together. Durkheims further
studies into the phenomenon revealed that other integrative social units or societies, as the
one that religion formed, such as matrimony and family, also seemed to provide similar levels
of immunity against suicide. In fact, the larger the family, i.e. more people to ensure stronger,
more wide-spread ties, the higher the immunity seemed to be.
Durkheim also studied political societies and discovered that at the initial stages of any
society, suicide was quite rare. As the society matured and disintegrated, it began to appear as
a significant characteristic. Similarly, at times of social disturbance or war, suicide rates
seemed to plummet. This seemed to suggest that whenever a collective, united sentiment was
the norm of the day, people seemed to be more immune to suicidal tendencies.
The conclusive idea that seemed to arise from these studies contributed towards the
description of this type of suicide. As a society weakens or disintegrates, the individual
becomes more dependent upon himself or herself rather than the group. Personal interests rise
above any social rule of conduct, giving rise to a state of excessive individualism that
Durkheim terms egoism, and the type of self-inflicted death rising out of this becomes
Egoistic Suicide.
A second type of suicide can be drawn from merely the all that is antonymous to the elements
of egoistic suicide. If excessive individuation leads to the latter, then Durkheim argued that
insufficient individuation would be able to do the same. While studying egoistic suicide,
there seemed to be no cases of that sort in much significance amongst primitive societies;
however, there seemed to be a different category of self-inflicted deaths amongst them. The
Danish warriors, the Goths, the Spanish Celts, even the ancient Hindu customs of Sati and
Jauhar in India in all of these societies, there seemed to be one common characteristic
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amongst the self-inflicted deaths that existed here: the individual killing himself or herself
does so not because they believe that it is their right to do, but on the contrary because they
assume that that is their duty. Such a sacrifice of human life seemed to be imposed upon the
individual by society, to suit its social purposes. The perpetuation of practices of these likes
could only take place in a society that places little value on the individual, creating a state
called altruism, the corresponding type of suicide being obligatory altruistic suicide.
As is in the case of any suicide, the altruist kills himself or herself, because he or she is
unhappy. However, altruistic suicide differs from the egoistic in very distinctive ways. Where
the egoist is unhappy because he or she sees nothing tangible or meaningful in the world
other than the individual, the altruist is unhappy because the individual is purposeless and lost
amongst a larger crowd. The egoist feels unsatisfied because he or she finds nothing
significant in this world to commit to, whereas the altruist commits himself or herself to
something that is beyond comprehension, and hence becomes burdensome. The egoists
unhappiness is manifested in depression, disinterest and pessimism, whereas that of the
altruist is expressed in unrealistic optimism and futile enthusiasm to accomplish the
impossible.
Altruistic suicide reflects the rudimentary morality that disregards the individual in the face
of the collective, whereas egoistic suicide represents an advancement of the individual even
above collective interests. They both find sufficient expression in the extremities of primitive
and advanced societies, as their characteristics correspond to the differences between the two.
However, that is not to say that altruistic suicide does not occur in advanced societies in
fact, there is a special environment, according to Durkheim, that proves most favourable for
the occurrence of altruistic suicide, one where it is almost chronic in the army or military.
The glorified idea of honour and war, often seen as a purpose larger than any individual life,
provides the perfect moral and social clime for martyrdom; whether it be on the battlefield, in
a fit of passion over the smallest of slights, or simply because one has seen and remembers
other suicides. In fact, the factor of contagion that was explored earlier seems to be explained
by the moral constitution which predisposes individuals to imitate the actions of others in
such a situation.
The third type of suicide that Durkheim explored was based on a different factor than that of
the degree of social integration. Aside from integrating its members, Durkheim proposed that
a society must regulate and control their beliefs and behaviour as well. There seemed to be,
according to him, a relation between suicide rates, and the manner in which a society would
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perform this important, regulatory function. Industrial and financial crises seemed to bring
about a rise in suicide rates; however, the other extreme, a sudden economic boom, seemed to
produce the same effect.
Anomic suicide is described as a type of self-inflicted death that was a result of a temporary
condition of social deregulation, or anomie. However, in one sphere of life anomie no longer
remains a temporary condition, but becomes rather the social temperament. In the sphere of
trade and industry, all traditional forms of social regulation, as seen in religion and
government, fail to excise moral constraints as a capitalist economy emerges. Religion which
once placed moral constraints on the greed of the upper class and comforted the poor has no
impact on the regulation of trade. Government, which once regulated economic function,
similarly has lost its power. With this absolute lack of social regulation, anomy is the regular
and normal state of affairs in the world of commerce, leading to a new category of suicides
driven to by people who seem to lose themselves amidst the chaos.
In terms of examples, what comes to mind is a case from literature more specifically, that
of British writer John Osborne. His play, Look Back in Anger, aptly characterizes the
feelings of frustration and helplessness that perfectly describes the sentiment of the individual
predisposed to anomic suicide. Set across the backdrop of England undergoing the industrial
revolution with the emergence of new class systems, especially a confused middle class, it
proves a prime example for the clime that best fosters tendencies for this type of suicide.
Perhaps an even more apt example would be the play Death of a Salesman by American
writer Arthur Miller. The central character of Willy Loman kills himself because, chasing the
ideal, capitalist, American Dream, he finds himself lost and frustrated by the chaos created
by emerging social classes into which he cannot integrate himself, as a result of the economic
boom. While in both literary pieces the plot revolves around an individual, what creates
relevance is the fact that both characters stood to represent a larger population within a
certain kind of society, the kind of which Durkheim speaks of in connection with anomic
suicide.
And so, there seems to be, according to Durkheim, three major types of suicide, with their
corresponding and characteristic social causes, each of which have been exemplified in
various societies, at various times. The egoistic suicide emerged out of a dissatisfaction or
purposelessness with the world due to the isolation of self from society; the altruistic suicide
drew upon the converse of excessive integration into society, leading to losing ones
individual value; the anomic suicide was a result of social deregulation leading to chaos,
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social anarchy, and a state of anomie; the opposite, but rarely found occurrence of fatalistic
suicide owing to excessive regulation, such as the suicides that occurred sometimes in
prisons, was also described in brief. Individual dispositions, culminating in the psychological
perspective, do still remain among the reasons behind suicide; however, it is impossible to
detach social influences from these psychological factors as the driving forces behind the
phenomenon, while studying suicide through Durkheims theories.
Conclusion
Different people have different reasons for committing suicide through the exploration of
Durkheims work, both his theories as well as their initial contradictions, this can be firmly
established.
It is impossible to completely negate constitutional factors as a reason for suicide. As has
been described in discussion of insanity and suicide, there is a significant impact of mental
health on the individuals tendency towards committing suicide. The four types of suicide
typical to pathology are all reasons in their own mania, melancholy, impulsive and
obsessive suicides. Durkheims attempt was to establish that suicide, while undeniably
influenced by individual typologies and psyche, was regardless a social phenomenon that was
not merely an expression of individual differences as an abnormal occurrence. Hence, while
psychological predispositions could be one of the reasons for suicide, it did not explain the
phenomenon in its entirety; this is done when examining it through the social influences that
impact it.
Disintegration of social ties and the resultant isolation from social connections is a definite
cause. In a general manner of speaking, suicide due to depression, a sense of loneliness and
abandonment and a deep dissatisfaction with life, is a prevalent and understandable
occurrence. The reasons stem from a lack of traditional beliefs and social cohesion, which
would lead to an absence of emotional support. This is typified in Durkeims egoistic suicide.
In one sense, it may be possible to view this type of suicide as characteristic to those
individuals that inhabit the extremities of a bell-curve population the outliers. Take the
example of individuals with extremely high I.Q. They populate the higher end of the bell-
curve, when studying the I.Q of a population. In some sense, they are isolated from the rest of
the population owing to their beyond-normal thought processes and comprehensive abilities.
This intellectual isolation can be translated into an emotional and social isolation as well. It
may be hypothesized, then, that egoistic suicide is the type that the outliers of any
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population would have the strongest affinity for, amongst the various other reasons and types
of suicide.
Ego integration and establishing an individual identity are also both necessary components of
social life. The lack of these can result in a sense of unimportance and worthlessness
regarding oneself. These conflicts have been described by psychologists Erik Erikson and
Karen Horney in different ways the Identity vs. Role Confusion conflict that Erikson
proposes as an essential conflict belonging to the process of development, and the perpetual
conflict between the Real and Ideal Self proposed by Horney. The former conflict describes
an individuals struggles to establish his or her identity within society. The latter describes an
individuals struggle to live up to a certain set of ideal and qualities that are considered
acceptable and necessary. Contextualizing these conflicts in the sociological perspective, they
manifest as Durkheims altruistic suicide typology. One is unable to distinguish the self from
the collective owing to extreme integration; one is also unable to live up to the larger-than-
life aspirations that are harboured owing to social expectations and norms that glorify the
many and denigrate the one.
Anarchy and chaos do of course provide sufficient cause for suicide. Once again quoting
Karen Horneys theories of personality, human being have ten basic needs, out of one is the
need for narrow boundaries social life needs to be regulated and controlled. A state of
complete freedom can translate into complete despair, with no sense of boundaries and
limitations. Anomie results, and the corresponding suicidal tendency is what Durkheim
typifies as anomic suicide.
And of course, this helplessness can be reversed in the case of excessive regulation and
control. When one would rather die than live with ones every thought, word and deed being
instructed and monitored by external social agents, fatalistic suicide occurs. This, however, is
a rarer occurrence than most other causes.
There is, unquestionably, an innumerable count of reasons that people have for committing
suicide. What is interesting to note, however, is that there exist different, specific types or
categories that incorporate a certain set of reasons into their descriptive characteristics.
Although suicide is ultimately a personal choice, it is undoubtedly a social fact influenced
by social factors and culminating in a social phenomenon like any other.