May 23, 2011

Social Problems and Anomic Suicide

KS_2010aBy Karen Sternheimer

You have probably heard news reports about the mother who drove into the Hudson river, tragically killing herself and three of her children. People speculated that her actions were caused by distress over relationship problems she had been having with her boyfriend.

We often think of suicide as primarily the result of an individual’s struggle with depression and other personal problems. Rarely do we consider some of the sociological factors that contribute to changes in suicide rates.

Recently, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that historically, suicides for people aged 25-64 rose during economic downturns. Their data suggest that suicide rates grew at the largest rate recorded in U.S. history between 1928 and 1932 (when unemployment rates reached nearly 24 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and were at their lowest levels in 2000 (when unemployment was at about 4 percent).

Because correlation does not prove causation, we cannot say for certain that a bad economy causes more suicides or that a good one prevents suicides. But this relationship can lead us to ask more questions about sociological factors that impact very personal decisions like suicide.image

In addition to economic downturns, disasters can also be associated with increases in suicide. After the March earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, Japanese public health officials have expressed concern about rising suicide rates, which increased after the 1995 quake in Kobe. Once the difficult reality sets in and survivors realize that their lives will not go back to normal, suicide becomes more likely.

Emile Durkheim provides several sociological explanations for suicide in his 1897 book, Suicide. Among the four types of suicide he discusses, anomic suicide might help us understand the situations noted above. According to Durkheim, when a major social change takes place and a sense of order is disrupted, people may feel a sense of anomie, or normlessness. When society itself seems to have fallen apart, survivors of disasters may not know how to begin to put their lives back together.

As the Los Angeles Times reported last April, twenty-five years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster many survivors are still struggling to get by economically, emotionally, and with the physical ailments they continue to endure. For example, many survivors exposed to radiation now have thyroid cancer at a rate seven times higher than the national rate, according to the article.

Perhaps this is why in the CDC report the authors recommend, “Promoting individual, family, and community connectedness, i.e. greater degrees of social integration (e.g., number of friends, high frequency of social contact, low levels of social isolation or loneliness); [and] positive attachments to community organizations” in order to try and prevent suicide during tough economic times.

For survivors of the tornadoes that have killed hundreds in several states, the coming months and years will be vital to rebuild not just physical structures, but social structure as well. As you can see from the video below, in one town every church was destroyed. Beyond just houses of worship, congregations provide an important sense of community for their members.

The coming months and even years are critical for people surviving disasters or trying to get back on their feet after the recession. The average time people spend unemployed remains high, at 37 weeks (the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking this measure in 1948). Some of the unemployed may be feeling hopeless, that they will never find a job again.

Mental health services may seem less necessary for people struggling to find food, water, and shelter for basic survival. But they are vital to prevent another wave of casualties after a traumatic event. Contrary to the myth that suicide rises during holidays, it is when the routines of our lives are dramatically disrupted that the risk for suicide increases.


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I agree with your aricle. There are many sociological factors that contribute to a person committing suicide. I like how you brought up Emile Durkheim, and his book Suicide. The anomic suicide brings up alot of questions about past suicides that I know of.

I really like the way you presented the idea of how sociological and many other factors contribute to a person's decision of committing suicide. Your example of Emile Durkheim and his ideas "when a major social change takes place and a sense of order is disrupted, people may feel a sense of anomie, or normlessness. When society itself seems to have fallen apart, survivors of disasters may not know how to begin to put their lives back together." has never crossed my mind before, and I am glad that you brought that up because it makes a lot of sense to why suicide rates are going up in Japan and many other countries. It's almost as though the emotional / mental state of a person is a minor reason as to why they commit suicide, but more so because they are under the pressures of society and what is happening in it.

I think that this article is interesting on how people have said that suicide increases in bad economic times. I think it's strange how much it makes since and that I have never realized it before. I agree that when someone is hit with such a life changing decesion that they change in ways that they never thought they would. I think this is a great article on this topic!

This is interesting. I never thought about suicide rates increasing during sadder times. That then raises the question of are people doing this because others are and they beleive that suicide is the only way out? They say the happy moods are very contagious, so that must mean that sad moods are contagious as well.

This article gives us a better idea of why people may commit suicide. That is because of the economic changes and their social changes. When a person goes through something like a disaster (tornado or earthquake) they know that life won't go back the way it used to so they kill themselves. Even when a person is in the depression they will probably feel more depressed and they will decide to leave. I agree with the person above me, they say happy moods are very contagious, so that must mean that sadder moods are contagious as well.

I agree with the moods being contagious it really affects alot of people and they do think it's the only way out. I don't know how to fix this but I wish something would happen to make this stop because it really hurts families and friends for a long long time.

I really enjoyed reading this article, partially because I found it very true, and partially because I have experienced depression and the will to commit suicide. I think that it is important for people to realize that things in life follow a series of events, and patterns. I had a rough junior year and things seemed to happen, one after the other that simply made climbing out of the hole I had dug impossible. The pain only seemed like it could end through suicide. I don't think a lot of people understand why people feel a certain way they do, but you have to put yourself in their shoes, and verstehen. It is very important to help those in economical downturn, natural disasters, or do as much as you can to those in need. I have found that if you are the one who needs a shoulder to lean on, letting someone know you are there for them is the best way to start with your change. I think that everyone needs to be more understanding of peoples individual feelings, and the effects that society has on things that cause series of unfortunate events to overthrow a persons life.

I agree with this article that when times are hard suicide rates go up. I believe that people find drastic changes hard to cope with, especially when they are for the worst. It's interesting how a study published in 1897 still has a very big effect on our lives.

I'm a sociology student and i just studied a sociologist that made his first investigation about suicide (Emilie Durkheim) and i really loved the way you explained your topic i think you made it really interesting and in a way that make people to think different in this society thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.

This article failed to present any new or interesting information. The idea that natural disasters, anomie, and joblessness are causes of suicide could easily be assumed based on common sense alone.

Interesting. I heard this term today at a banquet I went to and decided to look it and write an article relating to my personal loss. Thanks for the info and putting it in a way thats easy to understand.

Feelings, the way a person was raised, the dept of spiritual faith, and self tenacity are some of the things I think of after reading this article. I have endured a lot but I can't imagine losing everything and not having anything to rebuild. And being around a group of people that are experiencing the same. To pin point the culprit to me would be presumptuous. I firmly believe that suicide is something that has to be decided against before the temptation approach's. But then again, look how easy it is to just say. This is a very concerning issue to me.

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