Suicide—A Scourge of Young People

AS IF war, murder, and atrocities were not enough to devastate our youths, there is self-destruction in the form of youth suicide. Drug and alcohol abuse ravage the minds and bodies of youths, causing many deaths among young people. An increasingly familiar epitaph is that the victim OD’d—died of a drug overdose, either deliberately or accidentally.

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report of April 28, 1995, said that “suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents aged 15-19 years in the United States.” Dr. J. J. Mann writes in The Decade of the Brain: “More than 30,000 [in 1995 the figure was 31,284] Americans commit suicide each year. Tragically, youth are commonly the victims . . . Ten times more than those 30,000 people attempt suicide, but survive. . . . Identifying patients who are at risk for suicide is a major clinical challenge because clinicians cannot easily distinguish between patients with major depression who will attempt suicide and those who will not.”

Simon Sobo, chief of psychiatry at New Milford Hospital, Connecticut, U.S.A., observed: “There have been more suicide attempts this spring [1995] than I have seen in the 13 years I have been here.” In the United States, thousands of teenagers attempt suicide each year. Every attempt is a cry for help and attention. Who will be there to lend support before it is too late?

A Worldwide Problem

The picture is not much different in many other parts of the world. In India, according to India Today, some 30,000 youths committed suicide during 1990. In Canada, Finland, France, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand, suicide rates among young people have increased. A 1996 report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that the highest youth suicide rates are in Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, New Zealand, Russia, and Slovenia.

Australia also has one of the world’s highest youth suicide rates. In this country in 1995, 25 percent of all deaths among young males and 17 percent among young females were suicides, according to a report in The Canberra Times newspaper. The rate of “successful” suicides among Australian boys is some five times greater than among girls. A similar ratio is found in most countries.

Does this mean that boys are more likely to attempt suicide than girls? Not necessarily. Available data shows little difference between the sexes in occurrence of suicide attempts. However, “about four times as many young males as females commit suicide in the industrialized nations according to the latest figures from WHO [World Health Organization].”—The Progress of Nations, published by UNICEF.

But even these horrific statistics may not tell the full extent of the problem. Statistics on youth suicide, couched in clinical and analytic terms, are surprisingly easy to read. However, often not appreciated or seen behind each cold statistic are the shattered families and the heartache, misery, pain, and despair of those left behind as they search for reasons.

So, can such tragedies as youth suicide be prevented? Some key factors have been identified and could prove helpful in avoiding this sad situation. 

Motivations for Suicide

There are many theories about the motivations for suicide. “Suicide results from a person’s reaction to a perceived overwhelming problem, such as social isolation, death of a loved one (especially a spouse), a broken home in childhood, serious physical illness, growing old, unemployment, financial problems, and drug abuse.”—The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine.

According to sociologist Emile Durkheim, there are four basic types of suicide:

  1. Egoistic suicide—This “is thought to stem from an individual’s lack of integration into society. Largely left to themselves, victims of egoistic suicide are neither connected with, nor dependent on, their community.” They tend to be loners.
  2. Altruistic suicide—“The individual is overly integrated into a group so that he or she feels no sacrifice is too great.” Examples given are Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II and religious extremists who blow themselves up while killing their supposed enemies. Other examples would be those who have died by self-immolation in order to draw attention to a cause.
  3. Anomic suicide—“The victim of anomic suicide is not capable of dealing with a crisis in a rational manner and chooses suicide as the solution to a problem. [This] occurs when the individual’s accustomed relationship with society is suddenly and shockingly altered.”
  4. Fatalistic suicide—This is “thought to be caused by excessive societal regulation that fundamentally restricts an individual’s freedom.” Such victims “feel that they have no viable future.”—Adolescent Suicide: Assessment and Intervention, by Alan L. Berman and David A. Jobes.

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