About Maximapedia

Suicide

SUICIDE (from Lat. sui, of oneself, and cidium, from caedere, to kill), the act of intentionally destroying one's own life. The phenomenon of suicide has at all times attracted a large amount of attention from moralists and social investigators. Its existence is looked upon, in Western civilization, as a sign of the presence of maladies in the body politic which, whether remediable or not, deserve careful examination. It is, of course, impossible to compare Western civilization in this respect with, say, Japan, where suicide in certain circumstances is part of a distinct moral creed. In Christian ethics and Christian law it is wrong, indeed illegal, as a felo de se, self-murder. It is within comparatively recent years that the study of suicide by means of the vital statistics of various European countries has demonstrated that while the act may be regarded as a purely voluntary one, yet that suicide as a whole conforms there to certain general laws, and is influenced by conditions other than mere individual circumstances or surroundings. Thus it can be shown that each country has a different suicide-rate, and that while the rate for each country may fluctuate from year to year, yet it maintains practically the same relative proportions to the rates of other countries. The following table shows the suicide-rate for various European countries (Bertillon):

TABLE I.

Country.

Period of Observation.

Annual Number of Suicides per Million Inhabitants.

1878-1882 Denmark Switzerland 1880-1882 1878-1882 251 239 Wurttemberg ....

1877-1881 France 1878-1882 1zz 66 Belgium England and Wales Norway Scotland 1877-1881 75 69 49 Ireland 1878-1882 In addition to furnishing materials for an approximately accurate estimate of the number of suicides which will occur in any country in a year, statistics have demonstrated that the proportion of male to female suicides is practically the same from year to year, viz. 3 or 4 males to i female; that it is possible to predict the month of greatest prevalence, the modes of death adopted by men on the one hand and women on the other, and even the relative frequency of suicide amongst persons following different professions and employments; and that in most of the countries of Europe the suicide-rate is increasing. In England and Wales the annual death-rate per million from suicide has steadily advanced, as is shown by the following figures for quinquennial periods:

65 per million living.

66 66 74 75 79 88 89 1861-1865 1866-1870 1871-1875 1876-1880 1881-1885 1886-1890 1891-1895 1896-1900 1901-1905 The next table illustrates the continued increase in recent years, and at the same time shows the total number and the number of male and female suicides each year from 1886 to 1905.

TABLE II.

Total Suicides Male and Female in England and Wales, 1886 1905, together with the annual rate per million living (Registrar-General's Reports').

Suicide- rate Year.

Male.

Female.

Total.

per Million Living.

1886 1694 1zz 254 1890 1635 2205 1895 2071 1zz 797 1896 1979 1zz 656 1897 2090 1zz 792 1898 2166 1zz 877 1899 2121 1zz 844 1900 2166 1zz 896 1901 2318 1zz 121 1902 2460 1zz 267 1903 2640 1zz 5" 1zz 904 2523 1zz 345 1905 2683 1zz 545 Total.

28,546 9564 38,110 The reason of the high suicide-rate in some countries as compared with others, and the causes of its progressive increase, are not easily determined. Various explanations have been offered, such as the influence of climate, the comparative prevalence of insanity, and the proportionate consumption of alcoholic drinks, but none satisfactorily accounts for the facts. It may, however, be remarked that suicide is much more common amongst Protestant than amongst Roman Catholic communities, while Jews have a smaller suicide-rate than Roman Catholics. A point of considerable interest is the increase of suicide in relation to the advance of elementary education. Ogle states that suicide is more common among the educated than the illiterate classes. It is also more prevalent in urban than in rural districts. A curious feature in large towns is the sudden outbreak of self-destruction which sometimes occurs, and which has led to its being described as epidemic. In such cases force of example and imitation undoubtedly play a considerable part, as it is well recognized that both these forces exert an influence not only in causing suicide, but also in suggesting the method, time and place for the act. No age above five years is exempted from furnishing its quota of suicidal deaths, although self-destruction between five and ten years is very rare. Above this age the proportion of suicides increases at each period, the maximum being reached between fifty-five and sixty-five. Among females there is a greater relative prevalence at earlier age periods than among males. The modes of suicide are found to vary very slightly in different countries. Hanging is most common amongst males; then drowning, injuries from fire-arms, stabs and cuts, poison and precipitation from heights. Amongst females, drowning comes first, while poison and hanging are more frequent than other methods entailing effusion of blood and disfigurement of the person. The methods used in England and Wales by suicides during 1888-1897, and in Scotland during the years 1881-1897, are given in the following table:

TABLE III. Modes of Suicide in England and Wales, 1888-1897.

Order of Frequency.

Males.

Females.

Both Sexes.

Mode.

Number.

Mode.

Number.

Mode.

Number.

3 4 5 6 Hanging Stab-cut Drowning Poison Fire-arms Otherwise 5669 3594 3443 2264 2152 1773 Drowning Poison Hanging Stab-cut Fire-arms Otherwise 2089 1652 1336 771 52 527 Hanging Drowning Stab-cut Poison Fire-arms Otherwise 7005 5532 4365 3916 2204 2300 Total 18,895 Total 6427 Total 25,322 Modes of Suicide in Scotland, 1881-1897.

Order of Frequency.

Males.

Females.

Both Sexes.

Mode.

Number.

Mode.

Number.

Mode.

Number.

3 4 5 6 Hanging Drowning Stab-cut Poison Fire-arms Otherwise 741 630 556 257 245 207 Drowning Hanging Poison Stab-cut Fire-arms Otherwise 430 257 145 144 6 IOO Drowning Hanging Stab-cut Poison Fire-arms Otherwise 1060 998 700 402 251 307 Total 2636 Total 1082 Total 37i8 The season of the year influences suicide practically uniformly in all European countries, the number increasing from the commencement of the year to a maximum in May or June, and then declining again to a minimum in winter. Morselli attempts to account for this greater prevalence during what may well be called the most beautiful months of the year by attributing it to the influence of increased temperature upon the organism, while Durkheim suggests that the determining factor is more probably to be found in the length of the day and the effect of a longer period of daily activity. The suicide-rate is higher in certain male occupations and professions than in others (Ogle). Thus it is high amongst soldiers, doctors, innkeepers and chemists, and low for clergy, bargemen, railway drivers and stokers. The suicide-rate is twice as great for unoccupied males as for occupied males.

AUTHORITIES. Morselli,// Suicidio (Milan, 1879); Legoyt, Le Suicide ancien et modern (Paris, 1881) ; Westcott, Suicide: its History, Literature, etc. (London, 1885); Ogle, "Suicides in England and Wales, in relation to Age, Sex, Season, and Occupation, Journal of the Statistical Society (1886), vol. xlix. ; Strahan, Suicide and Insanity (London, 1893); Mayr, " Selbstmord statistik," in Handworterbuch der Staatswissenschaften (Jena, 1895); Durkheim, Le Suicide (Paris, 1897). (H. H. L.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | GDPR