After reading the article below, discuss the following question in your Reflective Journal. Please address each question separately in a paragraph form.
• Why did suicide change from a personal to a social problem?
• Why has it changed back to a personal problem?
• Who do you believe have the highest rates of suicides, men or women; cite one or two factors that contribute to suicidal attempts?
Suicide: The Making and Unmaking of a Social Problem
Deliberately drawing a razor blade across one’s wrist, putting a gun in one’s mouth and pulling the trigger, or taking poison—these chil l the imagination. More th an 100 years ago, sociologist Emile Durkheim (1897/1951) documented how suicide is more than an individ- ual act, how it is related to social conditions. When Durkheim analyzed the suicide rates of different coun- tries, he noticed that year after year each country’s rate remained about the same. Look at Figure 10.7. From one year to the next, these rates show little change. Ten years from now Hungary and Japan will have higher suicide rates than the United States has, and Greece and Mexico will have lower rates. Suicide rates are so regular that you can expect about 33,000 Americans to kill themselves this year, and next year, and the year after that (Statistical Abstract 2010:Table 114).
From Figure 10.7, you can see that in each country men are more likely to kill themselves than women. In the United States, for every woman who kills herself, four men do the same (Statistical Abstract 2010:Table 122). This ratio holds true year after year. Yet women attempt suicide more often than men. This is interpreted as meaning that women’s suicide attempts are more likely to be “cries for help,” but men are more likely to mean it. This is true, but there is also the matter of gender in the choice of method: Women are more likely to take pills, men to use guns. Pills allow more time for discovery before death and life-saving intervention, while a bullet does not.
I spent a (depressing) year studying suicide. As I reviewed the coroner’s records, I was impressed by the role of gender in suicide. Before taking pills, women tended to “pretty” themselves with makeup and to smooth the bed cover. You could see that they had in mind an image of how they would look when they were discovered. And comfort in death: One woman turned on the gas and then rested her head on a pillow in the oven. Not all women commit suicide like this, of course. Some do blow their brains out, but this is more likely to be a man’s way of death.
Suicide illustrates the making and unmaking of a social problem. In the 1960s, of the industrialized nations, our suicide rates—just as they are now—were somewhere in the middle. But at that time, mental health professionals began to publicize the idea that suicide was a national problem. The objective conditionshadn’t changed; that is, there was no increase in suicide, but subjective concerns grew as mental health professionals and government officials used the mass media to arouse the public. The idea of swift interven- tion when people contemplate or attempt suicide was appealing, and across the nation the National Institute of Mental Health began to finance suicide prevention centers to conquer what had become a social problem.
The suicide prevention centers failed to reduce the suicide rate, subjective concerns decreased, and most centers closed their doors. From time to time, subjec- tive concerns grow, such as after the suicide of a famous person or a series of suicides among the young. But subjective concerns have dropped to such an extent that suicide is again a personal problem, not a social problem. Note that during this social construction of a social problem the objective condition did not change (Henslin, 2011, pp. 314-315)