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SUICIDE (from Lat. sui, of oneself, a...

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 51 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SUICIDE (from Lat. sui, of oneself, and cidium, from cued ere, 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 othercountries. The following table shows the suicide-rate for various European countries (Bertillon) Country, Period of Annual Number of Suicides Observation. per Million Inhabitants. Saxony 1878-1882 392 Denmark 188o-1882 251 Switzerland 1878–1882 239 Baden 198 Wurttemberg 1877-1881 189 France 1878-1882 18o Prussia ,, 166 Belgium „ loo Sweden „ 92 England and Wales 75 Norway 69 Scotland 1877-1881 49 Ireland 1878-1882 17 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:- 1861-1865 . . 65 per million living. 1866-1870 . . 66 1871-1875 . . 66 1876-188o . . 74 1881-1885 . . 75 „ 1886-1890 • 79 1891-1893 . . 88 „ ,, 1896-1900 . . 89 1901-1905 . . 100 „ „ 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. Total Suicides-Male and Female—in England and Wales, 1886–1905, together with the annual rate per million living (Registrar-General's Reports). Year. Male. Female. Total. Suicide-rate per Million Living. 1886 1694 56o 2254 82 1890 1635 570 2205 77 1895 2071 726 2797 92 1896 1979 677 2656 86 1897 2090 702 2792 90 1898 2166 71I 2877 91 1899 2121 723 2844 89 1900 2166 730 2896 90 1901 2318 803 3121 96 1902 2460 807 3267 99 1903 2640 871 3511 105 1904 2523 822 3345 99 1905 2683 862 3545 104 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: Modes of Suicide in England and Wales, 1888-x897. Order Males. Females. Both Sexes. of Fre- Num- Num- Num- quency. Mode. ber. Mode. ber. Mode. ber. 1 Hanging 5669 Drowning 2089 Hanging 7005 2 Stab-cut 3594 Poison 1652 Drowning 5532 3 Drowning 3443 Hanging 1336 Stab-cut 4365 4 Poison 2264 Stab-cut 7 71 Poison. 3916 5 Fire-arms 2152 Fire-arms 52 Fire-arms 2204 6 Otherwise 1773 Otherwise 527 Otherwise 2300 Total 18,895 Total 6427 Total 25,322 Modes of Suicide in Scotland, 1881-x897. Order Males. Females. Both Sexes. of Fre- Num- Num- Num- quency. Mode. ber. Mode. ber. Mode. ber. 1 Hanging 741 Drowning 430 Drowning 1o6o 2 Drowning 63o Hanging 257 Hanging 998 3 Stab-cut 556 Poison 145 Stab-cut 700 4 Poison 257 Stab-cut 144 Poison 402 5 Fire-arms 245 Fire-arms 6 Fire-arms 251 6 Otherwise 207 Otherwise Too Otherwise 307 Total 2636 Total 1082 Total 37 18 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 aLd stokers. The suicide-rate is twice as great for unoccupied males as for occupied males. Literature, &c. (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.)
End of Article: SUICIDE (from Lat. sui, of oneself, and cidium, from cued ere, to kill)
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