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Old 20th Feb 2008, 10:21   #1
HP
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Default Suicide

Once our boys sailed into their twenties, we breathed a gentle sigh of relief that somehow they'd got thus far without getting into any mischief with drugs/drink/violence - or the police. Far from it, they've both been extraordinarily kind to their ma and pa and given us a very easy, enjoyable, and happy ride as parents - but I repeat thus far (for as any mum or dad knows, with kids you take things on a day to day basis). But at no time did we ever consider adding suicide to the list of pitfalls that we ought to ever worry about. Yet reading today of yet another teenage suicide (the seventeenth since January 2007) that has taken place in Bridgend, a rather unremarkable, quiet town in Wales, parents must be wondering if complacency such as ours is misplaced.

In The Times, today, there's a large spread on the Bridgend suicides, but also an interesting article on the 'contagious' aspect of taking one's own life which I think rings some rather credible bells.

Quote:
Suicide is catching – and we must beware how we respond to it

Nigel Hawkes: Analysis



Suicide is contagious, especially among the young. The literature is packed with studies showing that suicides among adolescents tend to occur in clusters and that they are often inspired by reports of other suicides.
This is far from a new phenomenon. Indeed, it has been called the “Werther effect”, after Goethe’s novel of 1774, The Sorrows of Young Werther, which triggered a spate of suicides in several European countries. The novel was actually banned in some countries to protect the vulnerable.


Suicide contagion is an adolescent disease; after the age of about 24 the effects of reports of suicides – whether written by voyeurs or victims’ friends on social websites, on popular blogs or in the mainstream media – is much less. But in these vulnerable years, according to one US study, the risk of “copycat” suicide among 15 to 19-year-olds was two to four times greater than in other age groups.


Strikingly, some studies have even been able to show a dose-response relationship between the intensity of reporting of suicides, and the number that follow. One case involved a firearms suicide by a celebrity in Austria that was intensively covered by a tabloid paper. The pattern of subsequent firearms suicides matched the newspaper’s distribution pattern.


Studies such as these have been used to create guidelines for reporting suicide, with particular emphasis on the suicides of prominent or famous people. It has been estimated that celebrity suicides are 14 times more likely to provoke copycat suicides than are the suicides of unknown people.
In Bridgend the attention generated across all forms of media has been intensive, and the easy communication of news through internet chatrooms may also have amplified the effect. Young Werther spread slowly across Europe as a printed book, dependent on translators and publishers: the internet offers instant information in an adolescent-friendly format.
Of course, suicide clusters play a relatively small part in the total picture. Economic conditions, unemployment, age, health and opportunity are the major contributors.


The relative prosperity of recent years has brought a sharp fall in suicides among young men, with rates now at their lowest level since the early 1970s. Rates among young women are also falling, but they have shown a steadier trend.


By the early 1990s suicide rates among men aged 15 to 24 had risen to more than 15 per 100,000 each year, statisticians reported last week in British Medical Journal online. In 2005, the rate had fallen to below 10 per 100,000.


According to Professor David Gunnell and his co-authors at the University of Bristol and the Office for National Statistics, the reasons for the fall were lower unemployment and the switch to cars with catalytic converters, which has made suicide by exhaust fumes almost impossible.


It is this generally encouraging trend that makes the Bridgend cases stand out. Historical experience makes it clear that clusters of adolescent copycat suicides are common, but that is little consolation to parents who have lost their children.


Some studies have shown that psychological interventions by mental health professions can be effective in preventing such suicides. But there is always a balance to be struck between counselling the vulnerable and risking becoming a new source of contagion by putting the idea into their heads.
Was just wondering what other Palimpers make of this very troubling phenomenon. Any thoughts, people?
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 10:41   #2
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Default Re: Suicide

En bref (as I should start work), the idea that this is an adolescent problem rings true. I can recall a kind of fascination with the idea when I was a teenager. I don't mean that we all wore black and sat around having seances, but I do remember discussing it a few times, and once, sitting round in our pottery class, disclosing whether or not we'd ever thought of killing ourselves and how we would do it.

I was meant to read Durkheim's Suicide when I was at university, and never did. He argued that suicide takes place for a variety of reasons - when the tie between the individual and society is too weak, and also when it is too strong. So a fragmented community = more suicides. At the time he was writing there were fewer suicides among Catholics than among Protestants, because the Catholic community was more tightly knit.

Is this a case of the link between society and the individual being too strong, i.e. the teenagers who have committed suicide being too attached to the actions and beliefs of their peer group?
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 10:42   #3
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It could well have something to do with that, I agree, Becca. And also, dare I say it, the fact that these teenagers might be swept along into thinking along those lines, without really taking on board, (crazy though this sounds) that death really is absolutely permanent.

Btw - for those overseas, or who haven't followed this in their own newspaper of choice, or on the tv, here's the link.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 10:50   #4
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Default Re: Suicide

Another aspect that has pertinence, here, I think, is that youth doesn't yet have the experience to know that bad times are like good times - transitory. That life is always shifting from a state of grace to something less enjoyable, and occasionally to times where things can appear very bleak - but that such a state, however miserable, is not forever.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 10:55   #5
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Default Re: Suicide

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Originally Posted by HP View Post
It could well have something to do with that, I agree, Becca. And also, dare I say it, the fact that these teenagers might be swept along into thinking along those lines, without really taking on board, (crazy though this sounds) that death really is absolutely permanent.
My emphasis. It may sound crazy HP, but I think that many teenagers don't realise the permanence of death and in some ways see it as a glamourous way to go, like Kurt Cobain, say, or Heath Ledger, the stuff of films and Hollywood. I don't know how much stock I put into the 'contagious' theory though.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 11:05   #6
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Default Re: Suicide

Yes, and it's surprising how small a thing can make a teenager's life seem unremittingly bleak - an argument with a group of friends; ill-formed body shape perception; guilt about something that one doesn't want to admit to parents or friends. Add to that the realisation that others find life unbearable and that there's a way out, and you have a recipe for suicide.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 12:08   #7
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Default Re: Suicide

I'd concur with everything here, I think. Especially Durkheim, whom I read at Uni and, although rather stuffy initially, really opens up the subject. Here, with the Bridgend connection it seems that the fragmented society aspect - mixed in with teenage angst and all the points gil mentions - is a very troubling concoction.

When I was at school, a lad killed himself after his parents forbade him from watching The Dukes of Hazzard. Daft, isn't it? But at the time, Jeez, he probably (well, clearly) thought it he worst thing that could have befallen him.

As for 'contagious', well, that seems a little fanciful, but I think that what the current media debate and the less responsible newspaper headlines might generate, is a feeling that the acceptability of this route as a way out has recently been 'improved', or at least given some sort of credence. And extra pushes on the merry-go-round will hardly help matters. There are already rumours of heavy-handed press-intrusion on the streets and doorsteps, and news crews from other countries doing spot interviews.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 12:31   #8
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Default Re: Suicide

I once had a girl working for me - a competent programmer who could get a job anywhere. Due to office closure, I had to choose several people to make redundant, and she was one of them. Like the others, she seemed to take it OK - basically it was a relaxed schedule of three months for her to get another job while still being paid by us.

That evening she committed suicide. You can imagine the guilt. I later heard that she had a minor accident with her car on the way home that evening and had broken up with her boyfriend that week, which may have been contributory factors, but I really really wish she hadn't done it.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 12:38   #9
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Default Re: Suicide

Edit: Gil, just seen your post - that's wretched. Can understand your feelings only too well.

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Originally Posted by amner View Post
When I was at school, a lad killed himself after his parents forbade him from watching The Dukes of Hazzard. Daft, isn't it? But at the time, Jeez, he probably (well, clearly) thought it he worst thing that could have befallen him.
Similarly tragic and senseless, was the fate of a girl (aged fifteen at the time) I knew, who joined the same dancing studio. She hadn't had any formal training but was desperate to become famous - just that, famous. The dancing was just something she saw as a route to fame. But she had no technique, had acquired no skills, and so within months of taking up dance, she auditioned for a slot as dancer on Top of the Pops and was turned down. Somehow she read that as proof her aspirations would come to nothing and she topped herself shortly after.

Quote:
And extra pushes on the merry-go-round will hardly help matters. There are already rumours of heavy-handed press-intrusion on the streets and doorsteps, and news crews from other countries doing spot interviews.
Yes. It wouldn't surprise me if all the media attention is actually adding to the 'cachet' of committing suicide for these teenagers? A way of achieving some sort of fame or recognition - i.e. being a somebody; or given how youth is frequently so obsessed with itself, more the idea of wanting to show the world the extent of your misery, the final grand statement; as amarie says, the appeal of becoming another Heath Ledger type of figure within your own community. Some of this is tied into another big problem we have today - the celebration of celebrity. But celebrity without talent, without art, without anything to bring to the feast except yourself. But here I'm going off on something that is a whole other subject, so I'll schtum it.
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Old 20th Feb 2008, 12:53   #10
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Default Re: Suicide

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Originally Posted by BeccaK View Post
I was meant to read Durkheim's Suicide when I was at university, and never did. He argued that suicide takes place for a variety of reasons - when the tie between the individual and society is too weak, and also when it is too strong. So a fragmented community = more suicides. At the time he was writing there were fewer suicides among Catholics than among Protestants, because the Catholic community was more tightly knit.
I take it this guy doesn't know much about Catholicism. If you are devout then you will believe that to kill yourself would send you straight to Hell. I doubt it has anything to do with how tightly knit the community was.
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