Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Preventative Measures and Suicide (part 2)

Regular readers may remember this post from last March, on efforts to prevent suicides from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The New York Times had a similar article in its Sunday Magazine concerning impulsiveness and the further attempts at understanding the "how" of suicide.

Little wonder, then, that most of us have come to regard suicide with an element of resignation, even as a particularly brutal form of social Darwinism: perhaps through luck or medication or family intervention some suicidal individuals can be identified and saved, but in the larger scheme of things, there will always be those driven to take their own lives, and there’s really not much that we can do about it. The sheer numbers would seem to support this idea: in 2005, approximately 32,000 Americans committed suicide, or nearly twice the number of those killed by homicide.

But part of this sense of futility may stem from a peculiar element of myopia in the way we as a society have traditionally viewed and attempted to combat suicide. Just as with homicide, researchers have long recognized a premeditation-versus-passion dichotomy in suicide. There are those who display the classic symptoms of so-called suicidal behavior, who build up to their act over time or who choose methods that require careful planning. And then there are those whose act appears born of an immediate crisis, with little or no forethought involved. Just as with homicide, those in the “passion” category of suicide are much more likely to turn to whatever means are immediately available, those that are easy and quick.

I would highly recommend you read this article in its entirety, for it is an excellent summary of the latest research concerning suicide prevention, and a great analysis of so-called "passion" or impulsive suicides.

However, as Jack Douglas ("The Social Meanings of Suicide") pointed out to me in an email, the reporter Scott Anderson does not consider the "full meaning of suicide", nor is there any discussion concerning measurement (official statistics), definition (what exactly is suicide), and motivation (impulsiveness is human nature, after all, and it is found in a myriad of human behavior, from homicide, to car buying, to starting wars).

And as Douglas notes, the reporter begins with a quote from Camus (“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide,") without realizing that his article focuses on the very kinds of extreme suicide that Camus was NOT thinking about.

But overall, the piece is a worthy contribution to the study of suicide. Ultimately, intervention and prevention work in tandem to understanding the "why" of suicide.

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