Suicide: What some of the literature says BY PREM MISIR, Ph.D.
Guyana Chronicle
January 14, 2002

Dear Mommy and Daddy, I’m sorry to do this to you’all, but I can’t take this life anymore.
I’m taking my boys with me. Please put one on my right and one on my left side. I love my boys and hope God forgives me and let me be with them. I know in my heart that my boys will be with God.

God please forgive me for I have sinned.
I love you, Mother and daddy, Eileen

[P.S.] Please dress the boys in blue. They look good in it. Please put me between them. I love them and want them to be in heaven, God’s heaven. Please put with Monty Jay his night, night blanket, one that Mom made. Please put with Jeff his little tiger that he got on his first Christmas on my bed…(Daly and Wilson, 1988).

THIS was a suicide note left by a troubled woman.
The distraught mother was discovered in a drug-induced coma, was revived, tried in a court of law, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Her act was attempted suicide.

Here is how an adolescent girl described her suicide attempt:

As a teenager, I basically had no friends, no interests at all. I stayed home. I felt very insecure around people, like I wasn’t worthy to be around them. I’d skip classes; I’d be in the john crying. It finally got to the point where I begged my parents to let me quit. My grades were suffering terribly. So my father signed the papers and after that, it’s all I heard, “You flukey, jukey bird,” from my father because I quit school. Well, I loved my father, but he drank and beat my mother and would bust up the house. She left with us kids several times. Basically, I stayed in my room and I reached the point where I didn’t want to be alive. (Stephens, 1987).

Suicide is the ninth-ranking cause of death in Guyana, and the eighth in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the U.S. indicated that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people aged 15 through 24.

In Guyana, suicide and self-inflicted injury accounted for 41 certified deaths in 1997, 35 in 1998, and 164 in 1999. More males than females committed suicide in Guyana - 189 males, and 51 females for the three years. Guyana also chalked up 160 and 169 suicides in years 2000 and 2001, respectively.

The global scene
Globally, the highest rank for male suicides is found in Lithuania, and China has the highest rank for female suicides, as reported by the International Academy for Suicide Research in 1998. The World Health Organisation (WHO) indicated that in 2000, about one million people worldwide would have died from suicide. Since 1954, suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent globally, and is among the three leading causes of death among people of both sexes aged 15 through 44, according to the WHO. In a third of the world, the WHO reported that suicide rates among young people are so alarmingly high that today, they are classified as the highest risk group.
What makes a person take his/her own life?

Sociological explanations
Let’s start with a definition of suicide and then try to explain in this section why it occurs. Suicide is the intentional destruction of one’s life. Suicide, therefore, is a deliberate act. Some sociological explanations follow:

Suicide varies inversely with the extent of social constraint exerted on the individual, according to Maris (1969). Social constraint refers to rules and shared ideas by which an individual’s life is regulated and integrated. That is, the greater the social constraint on the person, the lower the probability of suicide. The lower the social constraint, like in cases of social isolation, the higher the probability of suicide.

Suicide varies inversely with the degree of status integration in the society (Gibbs & Martin, 1958, 1964). Suicide acts are higher in situations of minimum status integration. If the many statuses or positions a person holds in society are closely linked (high status integration), then chances are that the probability of suicide will be low. In effect, a high level of role conflict (low status integration), with the many positions held, could induce suicide acts.

Suicide varies positively with status frustration (Henry & Short, 1954). A person may become so frustrated at the loss of status relative to others in the same system, that the person feels like ending their life. So, the higher the status frustration, the greater the chance of a suicide act.

Suicide varies positively with migration rates (Stack, 1980). High migration rates place people in the host society where it may take some time before they feel they are part of the new society. Also, in societies with high migration rates, some people are left behind, eagerly awaiting immigration papers that will enable them to travel to the host country. This waiting could now take years, as in the case of the U.S. In this situation, the person waiting may not adjust well to an almost permanent absence of relatives, like siblings, or a mother and/or a father. In such cases, the person in question could experience trauma. Therefore, loss of a dear relative is experienced at both ends of the migration continuum, that is, in both the donor and host societies. According to Stack, chances are that societies with high migration rates could have a high suicide rate.

Suicidal behaviour can be learned. Akers (1985) provides two learning paths to committing suicide. The first is learning to behave suicidally, but not fatally, and later arriving at a suicidal point. The second path is learning and building on a readiness of committing suicide and then actually being successful at the act.

These theories, generally, attempt to explain suicide as occurring because of a lack of social integration in people’s social relations, the presence of social disorganisation, and using the socialisation perspective. It was Emile Durkheim’s study of suicide in 1897 that pointed out the relationship between suicide rate and social integration. He argued that the suicide rate could not be explained through the personal characteristics of individuals, but only through the amount of social cohesion or social integration in the society. It needs to be said, however, that the majority of people experiencing a lack of social cohesion in their relations, do not commit suicide.

Preventive intervention based on sociological and social psychological understanding

How do people come to commit suicide? What is their state of mind when they are on the threshold of committing the act? People contemplating suicide are not mentally deranged, or experiencing insanity. Since suicides are intentional, mental disorders may hinder suicide. Litman (1987) said: “Mental disorders or developmental deficiencies that reduce the capacity for planning and deliberation, and that prevent the psychological organisation of sequential actions, greatly reduce the potential for suicide.” Suicides, on the whole, therefore, are rationally planned

In the Maris’ study (1981) of suicides in Chicago from 1966 through 1968, a conclusion deduced is as follows: there is no question that depression was important in the research, but hopelessness seemed to have more significance than depression. Hawton (1986) said the following about adolescents who attempted suicides: “The main feelings that appear to precede attempts by adolescents are anger, feeling lonely or unwanted, and worries about the future. A sense of hopelessness is a major factor distinguishing depressed adolescents who make attempts from similar adolescents who do not”.

Which of the two, depression or hopelessness, has a greater importance in producing suicidal thoughts? This is important to know in the development of preventive intervention. A study by Rudd (1990) supports hopelessness as a major factor. However, lack of social cohesion, social disorganisation, and socialisation, generally precede both depression and hopelessness. So, preventive intervention would need to first address the preceding factors. If this stage is successful, then there is no need to tackle hopelessness and depression.

The increased suicide rate in Guyana, with a few successful attempts already in this new year, points to the need for effective prevention intervention based on an application of both sociological and psychological perspectives. Any half-baked approach will stagnate prevention intervention.