Mental health issues has been achronic problem globally. According to a survey conducted by the NHSInformation Centre for health and social care in the UK, approximately 1 in 4people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year (McManus,S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E.
, & Jenkins, R, 2009).However, mental health problems has long been a withstanding issue throughouthistory especially suicide. In 1897, Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist,published a book titled ‘Suicide’ which tackles issues on suicide and its casestudies. The publication was unique at the time as it provided an example ofwhat the sociological monograph should look like.Durkheim (1897) used the term suicideto refer to every case of death which results directly or indirectly from a positiveor negative act, carried out by the victim himself, knowing that it willproduce this result.
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In the book, he also carried out a research on suiciderates. Durkheim wanted to understand why some people were more likely thanothers to take their own lives. After studying and analysing few cases, he thencame up with three characteristics which put some people at a higher risk ofsuicide tendencies than others by looking at the social environments such as:(1) Gender: In most societies, men tend to have morefreedom and are also more independent than women. Although this situation mightbe a good thing for men, Durkheim stated that it can lead some men to feel thatthey have few significant relationships with other people. It would also meanthat it could be a sign of weakness to seek advice or comfort from others. Thiscan lead to feelings of being cut off or left out from the community.
(2) Religion: Durkheim also suggested thatProtestants were more likely to commit suicide than Catholics or Jews becausethe religious cultures of the latter two religions accentuate the developmentof close ties amongst themselves. People who do not develop close ties withothers or loners have higher probability to commit suicide. (3) Marital status: He also used the idea of socialintegration to explain the suicide tendencies of unmarried people. He statedthat people who were not married or in a relationship had less connections toothers and were less likely to feel a part of the community.Later on, he also tried toidentify the reason behind this case and concluded with four types of suicide. Durkheimclassified types of suicides on the nature of relationship between theindividual and society which is based on integration and regulation in society; (1) Egoistic suicide: Suicide ofself-centred person who lacks altruistic feelings and is usually cut off from main stream of the society when thereis too little integration and do not think that their death would affectsociety. A relevant example of a modern day case could be an individual who isan outlier of society such as a drug taker.(2) Altruistic suicide: Suicidethat occurs when there is too much integration where the individual is sointegrated, they have no life of their own and the only way to gain back theirlife is by ending it.
In today’s modern society, an example could be caseswhere carers such as nurses who attempt suicide because of their highresponsibility.(3) Anomic suicide: Suicide due tolittle regulation in society. In example, veterans from wars who once had a lotof regulation and have exited the military, have no regulation and rules to obeyto, hence losing their sense of direction and become depressed.(4) Fatalistic suicide: Suicide dueto overregulation in society.Durkheim’s theory of suicide hascontributed a lot in understanding the phenomenon of suicide. The types ofsuicides stated by Durkheim could help us understand the state of individualswho have suicidal thoughts better. Assessments and diagnosis could be made bymental health doctors and therapists to develop a treatment plan for thepatients.
Mental health issues also tend to be more personal as each person isunique. As stated by Durkheim, few important factors which are considered inassessing the patients includes the nature of the disorder and the characteristicsof the patients; his or her strengths and weaknesses. Through the diagnosis, specifictreatment approach can be taken so that the patients can be in a better mentalstate.As previously mentioned, mentalhealth issues are very personal to each individual as different people havetheir own unique issues. Through the different types of suicides stated byDurkheim, we can understand people’s suicide tendencies better.
An example of acase study could be the rise in suicide during a plunge in the economic stateof a country. According to a study made by Centers for Disease Control andPrevention (CDC), it was found that historically, suicide cases for people aged25-64 increased during economic downturns. Their study found out that suiciderates increased at the highest rate recorded in U.S. history between 1928 and1932 when unemployment rates reached nearly 24 percent, according to the Bureauof Labor Statistics and were at their lowest levels in 2000 when unemploymentwas at about 4 percent) (Cdc.gov, 2018). Same can be said to the rise insuicide in Greece; a country that historically had low suicide rates. Since theeconomic crisis, the mean suicide rate overall rose by 35% between 2010 and2012, from 3.
37 to 4.56/100?000 population (Rachiotis et al., 2018).Other than economic downturns, naturaldisasters can also be associated with increases in anomic suicide. After theMarch, tsunami earthquake, Japanese officials have expressed concern about therise in suicide rates which peaked after the 1995 quake disaster in Kobe. Whenthe tough reality sets in and people realise that their lives will not go backto normal, suicidal thoughts are more likely to happen. Individuals will experiencethe sensation that society is breaking down. It is usually felt as fear oranxiety.
This shows symptoms of anomic suicide tendencies where there are verylittle regulation in society. It is proven that Durkheim’s theories do help usunderstand and address the issues of mental health problem nowadays. Nevertheless,as correlation does not prove causation, we cannot say for sure that badeconomy or natural disaster causes more suicides or that economic boom can preventsuicides. However, this relationship can spark us to raise more questions aboutsociological factors that could impact personal decisions such as suicide.
Although ‘Suicide’ was praised bymany positivists and seen by many as a sociological classic, Durkheim’s theorieshas been criticised. It was said that thereis too much focus on social factors and he also has forgotten or underminedother factors, thus making his theory a little bit unreliable and one sided.Jack D. Douglas, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University ofCalifornia, San Diego has criticised the work of Durkheim about suicide in hisbook titled ‘The Social Meaning ofSuicide’ (Douglas, 2016).Douglas suggested that sociologicalanalysis should focus on its meaning rather than social structure. He arguedthat to comprehend suicide sociologically, the meaning of suicide should beanalysed for the participants using suicide notes, psychiatrist’s notes and diaries.He stated that there could be a number of typical meanings of suicide in themodern society;(1) Suicide as reunion: release fromcares/pressures.
(2) Suicide as atonement: transforming oneself forothers. (3) Suicide as revenge: revenge against someone (mostincreased form in the 20th century)Jean Baechler, a Frenchsociologist then developed on the work of Douglas. He stated that in his book ‘Suicides’that suicide can only be explained through personal factors rather thanexternal factors (Baechler, 1979). By using case studies and literatures as histools, he concluded that suicide is both a response to a problem and also amethod to solve a problem.
He then also differentiate suicides into fourdifferent types;(1) Escapist: Flight from an intolerable situation. (2) Aggressive: A way of harming other people and makeanother person feel guilty. (3) Oblative: Sacrifice or giving their life to saveothers. (4) Ludie: Taking deliberate risks that could leadto death.As seen through the evidence,Durkheim’s work from ‘Suicide’ has sparked a lot of debate and criticisms bymany sociologists and also created a ripple effect on the study of suicide andmental health. Through the study from many sociologists, mental health andsuicide cases can be understood and analysed from different kind of perspectives.To summarise, Durkheim’s theorieson the relationship between social integration and regulation to the suiciderate is very much still relatable today. As an illustration, people who attemptsuicide are much more likely to feel lonely and isolated from others and claimsto have less significant relationships.
This confirms Durkheim’s hypothesis inhis book. From different debates and discussions that took place because ofDurkheim’s work, effective mental health treatment plans hence can be made toindividuals who wants and needs help. Treatment plans can empower mental healthpatients to be in charge of their own life and address mental health distress. Peoplethen can move forward towards a more happy and healthy place with strongermental health and emotional health.
All in all, to answer the main questions,the research from Durkheim in his book ‘Suicide’ does help us to understand andaddress mental health problems in the 21st Century.