• Indra Balmer

About Suicide - Part 1

When I was in 11th grade, one of my classmates took his own life. Personally, I hardly knew this student, I only had one class with him, but never talked to him outside. I remember how he used to lightly provoke our teacher and make us all laugh. For some reason, I can still vividly remember his grin. Probably because it always reminds me that you never know what a person is going through, what someone is feeling, because we all hide behind our own protective wall and put on a masquerade. Even the people who seem to be happy from the outside can be caught up in a struggle on the inside.

According to "Statista", 9,838 suicides were recorded across Germany in 2016 - that is more than twice as many people who took their own lives than people who died in a traffic accident in the same period. Although the suicide rate has fallen significantly since the 1980s from an average of 17,270 deaths, it is still frighteningly high at the current nearly 10,000 deaths. And yet, this topic is a huge taboo in our society today. But what is the reason for this? Is it because it is still considered a sin within the church? Or is it because most Germans are not aware of the high number of suicides,. What doesn't concern you personally, you don't have to deal with? What is it that makes so many people take their own lives year after year? And why does this death in many cases come out of nowhere for the relatives?

One sociologist who dealt intensively with the subject of suicide was Emile Durkheim. In his work "Suicide", he refuted the connection between suicide and factors such as race, heredity, climate or imitation that had been assumed until then. To do this, he analysed various statistics between 1840 and 1880 as well as data from his own research. Instead, he examined suicide as a pathological behaviour: In the course of this, he names three (or four) basic types of suicide. However, he deliberately does not take into account the cases that can be attributed to mental illness:

1. Egoistic suicide: Durkheim concludes that this form of suicide involves a loss of value within a collective and that the needs of an individual are placed above those of a community. In addition, a gradual process of isolation develops. As an example, Durkheim cites the effects of religious communities on suicide: It can be observed that, if one compares the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish communities, the adherents of Protestantism record the most suicides in percentage terms. As a reason for this, Durkheim cites the comparatively low cohesion within the group, coupled with a strong need for education. Contrary to the expectation that the suicide rate would be high among the Jewish religious community, due to their minority status and also high level of knowledge, the lowest "susceptibility" to suicide can be observed among the Jews. Another example is the situation of unmarried, widowed or childless persons. In these cases, too, a "[lack of] connection to and control by a group" can be observed, which in turn increases the "susceptibility" to suicide. As another example, Durkheim cites the event of a political crisis: He notes that during such a time of distress, the suicide rate decreases as cohesion within a social group strengthens and greater integration takes place.

According to Durkheim, altruistic suicide is the counterpart of egoistic suicide. The social group and its needs are placed above those of the individual. Here, too much integration into society takes place, for "[just as] excessive isolation leads to suicide, so insufficiently developed individuality has the same effect. When one is detached from society, he easily commits suicide. So is the case if he is too much involved in it". Thus, "suicidal traditions" can be so strongly embedded within a society that individuals feel compelled to commit suicide because they see it as their duty - "Society thus exerts a pressure on [man] to destroy himself". More specifically, Durkheim refers to this type as "obligatory altruistic suicide" Durkheim states that "[suicide] increases the less susceptibility to selfish suicide the peoples concerned possess [and] it decreases as selfish suicide develops". He subdivides this basic type into three further subtypes:

2.1 (The already mentioned) obligatory altruistic suicide

2.2 The facultative altruistic suicide In this type of suicide, too, there is a sense of duty that emanates from society. But it is not as pronounced as in the case of obligatory suicide. This subtype is mainly found in societies where life as such does not have a particularly high value status. Durkheim explains: "If one is accustomed from childhood not to make much of life and to despise those who are particularly attached to it, it can easily happen that one throws it away for the slightest occasion. One easily decides to make a sacrifice that costs so little".

2.3 The "exaggerated altruistic suicide" This subtype is used above all in cultures in which the belief in what happens after death has a higher value than life itself. "The sacrifice [of one's own life is offered] solely for the pleasure of the sacrifice [...] because the renunciation itself, without a special occasion, is considered praiseworthy".

3. Anomic suicide There is also a similar coherence between anomic suicide and fatalistic suicide as there is between egoistic and altruistic suicide. It is merely not based on a lack of or too much integration within a society, as in the case of those already mentioned. Hoewever, it is based on the non-existence of guidelines and regulations and, as a contrast, the existence of too many regulations. Anomic suicide, then, is a consequence of too little rule-boundness: "Man [is dependent on an] authoritarian power [which] restricts his needs, for example, on the basis of moral standards." However, if there is a change in which people no longer know which norms and values they should follow or strive for, this in turn creates "frustrations for the individual that [can] lead to suicide".

4. Fatalistic suicide Fatalistic suicide, as already explained, is the counterpart of anomic suicide. Instead of an excessive absence of rules, norms and values, which plunge the individual into "chaos", there is an excessive integration into the social network of rules - "[t]he individual is in a state [...] of excessive control". He thus describes that this type of suicide occurs in people who feel constricted and restricted by the multitude of (rule) restrictions, in "those for whom the future is walled up without pity, whose instinctual life is forcibly stifled by an oppressive discipline. It is the suicide of the too-young married couple that leads to the suicide of the childless married woman." However, Durkheim defines this type as less important and negligible in his time.

Durkheim established through his research that society, its needs, norms and values are a decisive factor that can drive humans to suicide. Humans therefore suffer from culture. This connection can also be found in Freud's "Psychoanalytical Theory of Culture" - within the framework of this, Freud puts forward the thesis that culture makes humans sick. If we look at his remarks in "Unbehagen in der Kultur" (Discomfort in Culture) from 1930, we can certainly conclude that the described demand for "drive victims" and the attempt to find a balance between freedom and compulsion, and a corresponding failure or failure to do so, can drive humans to suicide.

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