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suicide [Lat.,=self-killing], the deliberate taking of one's own life. Suicide may be compulsory, prescribed by custom or enjoined by the authorities, usually as an alternative to death at the hands of others, or it may be committed for personal motives. Depending on the time and place, it may be regarded as a heroic deed or condemned by religious and civil authorities.
Compulsory suicide may be performed out of loyalty to a dead master or spouse. Examples of this are suttee in India and the similar behavior expected of the dead emperor's favorite courtiers in ancient China. Such practices, now largely extinct, undoubtedly derived from the ancient and widespread custom of immolating servants and wives on the grave of a chief or noble (see funeral customs). Self-murder may also be enjoined for the welfare of the group; among pre-industrial peoples, the elderly who could no longer contribute to their own subsistence are an example. Finally, suicide may be offered to a favored few as an alternative to execution, as among the feudal Japanese gentry (see hara-kiri), the Greeks (see Socrates), the Roman nobility, and high-ranking military officers, such as Erwin Rommel, accused of treason. In traditional Japanese society, in certain situations suicide was seen as the appropriate moral course of action for a man who otherwise faced the loss of his honor. Self-killing may be practiced by peoples lacking a codified law of punishment; the Trobriand Islanders hurled themselves ceremonially from the tops of palm trees after a serious public loss of face. In these situations, the line between social pressure and personal motivation begins to blur.
In less traditional societies the causes of suicide are more difficult to establish. The problem has been approached from two different angles: the sociological, which stresses social pressures and the importance of social integration, and the psychoanalytic, which centers on the driving force of guilt and anxiety and the inverting of aggressive impulses. Recent studies have done much to dispel some of the myths surrounding suicide, such as the beliefs that suicidal tendencies are inherited, that suicidal tendencies cannot be reversed, and that persons who announce their intention to commit suicide will not carry out the threat.
Self-killing is expressly condemned by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and attempts are punishable by law in certain countries. Suicide was a felony in 11th-century England because the self-murderer was considered to have broken the bond of fealty, and the suicide's property was forfeited to the king. Suicides were interred on public highways with a stake driven through the heart; this practice was observed as late as 1823. In 1961, Great Britain abolished criminal penalties for attempting to commit suicide. Very few U.S. states still list suicide as a crime, but most states have laws against helping someone to commit suicide. A right-to-die movement has supported the principle of doctor-assisted suicide in certain cases (see euthanasia).
In the United States, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death. About twice as many women attempt suicide as men, but out of roughly 31,000 successful suicides04/03 in 1996, about four fifths were by men. A striking characteristic, which has concerned and baffled public health workers, has been the increase in suicides in the age group 10 to 14 years. In the period from 1980 to 1995, suicides in this age group rose from 139 to 330 per 100,000 individuals. Worldwide, suicide rates have been notably high in Russia, Hungary, and Finland.
See E. Durkheim, Suicide (1897, tr. 1951); R. Cavan, Suicide (1928, repr. 1965); E. Stengel, Suicide and Attempted Suicide (1965); J. Douglas, The Social Meanings of Suicide (1967); E. Shneidman, ed., Essays in Self-Destruction (1967); M. L. Farber, The Theory of Suicide (1968); E. A. Grollman, Suicide (1970); A. Alvarez, The Savage God (1972); J. Choron, Suicide (1972); D. Lester, Why People Kill Themselves (1972); G. Colt, The Enigma of Suicide (1991); P. Singer, Rethinking Life and Death (1994); H. Hendin, Suicide in America (new and enl. ed. 1995); K. R. Jamison, Night Falls Fast (1999).
suicide‘all cases of death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result’ (DURKHEIM, 1897). ATTEMPTED SUICIDE AND PARASUICIDE are different phenomena, requiring separate inquiry Persons who have ‘attempted suicide’ or else feigned suicide, cannot
necessarily be studied as a guide to the behaviour of successful suicides.
DURKHEIM's analysis of suicide has been highly influential within sociology. His argument was that rates of suicide are related to the type and level of SOCIAL INTEGRATION within a society. Thus an explanation of these different rates required a distinctively sociological explanation. Using available published statistics, Durkheim first eliminated various environmental and psychological variables previously proposed as explaining suicide, before proposing that four distinctive types of suicide can be identified: EGOISTIC SUICIDE, ALTRUISTIC SUICIDE, ANOMIC SUICIDE, and FATALISTIC SUICIDE, each of these corresponding to a particular condition of society.
One central problem in Durkheim's account is that OFFICIAL STATISTICS undoubtedly distort and understate the overall incidence of suicide. It is also likely they do so more for some groups than others (e.g. Durkheim found Catholics less likely than Protestants to commit suicide, but Catholics may have greater reason to conceal suicide). Some sociologists (e.g. J. Douglas, The Social Meaning of Suicide, 1967) suggest that social research on suicide must first establish empirically how suicides are designated, e.g. by police, coroners, etc., before such social statistics can be used with any confidence, and that Durkheim failed to do this.
Despite reservations about Durkheim's work, aspects of his account have been confirmed by other theorists, e.g. Sainsbury (1955) who found that suicide rates in London boroughs were highest where levels of'social disorganization’ – e.g. levels of divorce, illegitimacy, etc. - were also highest. Sainsbury and Baraclough (1968) have also suggested that the rank order of suicide rates for immigrant groups to the US correlated closely with the rank order of suicide rates for their countries of origin, despite the fact that a different set of labellers were involved. Thus they suggest that, though official suicide statistics must be used with caution, they may be less unreliable than sometimes suggested. This view might be seen as gaining further support from regularities in the incidence of suicide which tend to recur across cultures, for example, higher rates among men than women, among the widowed and the divorced, among the unmarried and the childless, among the old compared with the young. Most of these findings are consistent with what Durkheim found.
Suicide was one of the acts universally associated with vampirism. In cultures as varied as in Russia, Romania, West Africa, and China, suicide was considered an individual’s pathway into vampirism. In the West in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim cultures, suicide has traditionally been considered a sin. In most other cultures suicide was frowned upon in an equivalent manner. Japan has generally been considered unique in its designation of a form of suicide called hari-kari, as a means of reversing the dishonor that initially led to the suicide.
Suicide was among the anti-social actions a person could commit that caused vampirism. In Eastern Europe, those actions included being a quarrelsome person, a drunkard, or associated with heresy or sorcery/witchcraft. In each society, there were activities considered a threat to the community’s well-being that branded a person as different. While these varied considerably from culture to culture, suicide was most ubiquitous in its condemnation.
Suicide signaled the existence of extreme unresolved tension in the social fabric of a community. It was viewed as evidence of the family’s and the community’s inability to socialize an individual, as well as a statement by the individual of complete disregard for the community’s existence and its prescribed rituals. The community, in turn, showed its disapproval in its treatment of the suicide’s corpse. In the West, it was often denied Christian burial and its soul considered outside of the realm of salvation (the subject had committed mortal sin without benefit of confession and forgiveness prior to death). Those who committed suicide were buried at a crossroads or at a distance from the village. The corpse might even be thrown in a river to be carried away by the current.
Those who committed suicide died leaving unfinished business with relatives and close acquaintances. They left people with unresolved grief, which became a factor, sometimes unspoken, in the survivors’ personalities for the rest of their lives. Their corpses often returned to the living in dreams and as apparitions. They were the subjects of nightmares, and families and friends occasionally felt under attack from the presence of them. The deceased became a vampire, and actions had to be taken to break the connection that allowed the dead to disturb the living. The various actions taken against a corpse could be viewed as a means of emotional release for the survivors. The break in the connection was first attempted with harmless actions of protection, but, if ineffective, those efforts moved to a more serious level with mutilation (with a stake) or complete destruction (by fire) of the corpse.
Novelists and screenwriters have utilized suicide in their consideration of the problems faced by vampires who have found themselves bored with their long life, displaced in time, or have concluded that their vampire state is immoral.
Immediately after becoming a vampire, for example, Lestat de Lioncourt (the continuing character in Anne Rice‘s vampire novels) had to witness the suicide (by fire) of the vampire who had made him. Eventually, Armand, the leader of the Parisian community eventually committed suicide by basking in the sunlight. Placing oneself in the open as the dawn approaches is the suicide method of choice for vampires, as recently exemplified by Boya (in the 1996 movie Blood and Donuts) and Countess Maria Viroslav in Kathryn Reines’s The Kiss (1996). Toward the end of Memnoch the Devil, the fifth of the “Vampire Chronicles” of Anne Rice, Armand walks into the sunlight out of his intense religious feelings after seeing Veronica’s veil that Lestat had returned with after his adventure in heaven and hell.
Both the Cevaillier Futaine (the vampire in Henry Kuttner’s 1937 pulp short story, “I, the Vampire” and Batman (in the alternative universe Batman story Batman: Bloodstorm) committed suicide by leaving their sleeping place open for someone they knew would come in to kill them, Possibly the most ingeneous suicide device was devised for Yaksha, the original vampire in Christopher Pike‘s The Last Vampire series. Yaksha had made a deal to redeem himself by killing all of the vampires and then himself. He saved his former lover for last. She rigged a set of explosives in a room that would kill both of them but then cleverly concealed a shield that would protect her at the crucial moment. Yaksha was killed but she survived.
In the second season of True Blood (the television series drawing on the novels of Charlaine Harris), Godric, the sheriff of Dallas, commited suicide by standing in the open on a building to greet the morning sun as Sookie Stackhouse watches.
What does it mean when you dream about suicide?
A dream about suicide may suggest that conditions in the dreamer’s life are so frustrating that the dreamer is no longer willing or able to cope with a business or personal relationship in the same way as in the past.