They called for greater collaboration between sociology and the fields of psychology, biomedicine and public health in understanding suicide; and they admonished their colleagues to put more effort into its study – of more than 30,000 academic articles on suicide since 1980, only about 400 (1.3 percent) were sociological in nature, according to a 2009 review.
In Suicide: The Hidden Side of Modernity (2006), social anthropologists Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet, surveying past and current studies, note how the failure of most suicide research or national prevention plans to examine the role shifting socio-cultural factors and values, as well as country wealth, plays into rates, factors into why many nations have made minimal gains in curtailing deaths.
“It isn’t society that sheds light on suicide, but rather suicide that sheds light on society,” Baudelot and Establet wrote, emphasizing a need to go beyond the limited set of demographic statistics most sociologists and economists rely on to draw conclusions about why suicide rates are what they are.
And In Suicide and Culture: Understanding the Context (2012),Eminia Colucci and David Lester argue the increasing domination of biological approaches in suicide research and prevention, at the expense of socio-cultural understanding, is severely harming the ability to stop people from killing themselves.
Sociological risks, according to WHO, include discrimination, a sense of isolation, conflictual relations, financial loss, irresponsible media reporting which sensationalizes suicide and increases the risk of “copycat” suicides, and stigma against people seeking help for suicidal behaviors. I’ve experienced all of these things.
The Newsweek article I’ve repeatedly referred to highlighted additional risks corroborated by realms of research – risks which rarely have anything to do with us “crazy” folks.
Some of the groundbreaking research featured was that of psychologist and leading suicide researcher Thomas Joiner, whose father killed himself and who’s devoted his life to finding commonalities among the dizzying array of risk factors for self-inflicted death. Joiner’s meticulous studies have succeeded in identifying three circles of risk which – when they converge in what amounts to a psychological Venn diagram – lift a person from watching to sitting in the eye of a suicide tornado.
“What’s alarming is that each condition itself isn’t extreme or unusual, and the combined suicidal state of mind if not unfathomably psychotic… Joiner’s conditions of suicide are the conditions of everyday life,” wrote Dokoupil.
It’s obvious why suicide is becoming America’s defining social and political act when you see the three conditions Joiner found: 1) An overwhelming feeling of not belonging – with anyone or anywhere, exhibited through such things as social isolation, exclusion from social groups, loneliness, and lacking connection. This is why suicide rates are higher among amongst unmarried and divorced people. 2) Feeling one is a burden and liability to others, that they lack effectiveness, and are useless, non-contributing members of society – a feeling I, along with the first condition, deeply relate to. This second condition helps explain why suicide is higher among the unemployed – something I have long battled and berated myself for, as numerous attempts to find work over the past five years have proved fruitless.
And the final condition, when combined with the first two, which Joiner found creates a deadly vortex of almost insurmountably high suicide risk, is 3) Fearlessness, or the ability to die – an ability which develops with time and gradual acclimation to pain, because contrary to popular belief, it’s not easy or cowardly to kill yourself: It takes “a kind of courage… a fearless endurance,” Joiner said18.
While I’ve experienced extreme and incapacitating suicidal ideation for years – including several attempts to die by drug overdose – it’s always been this third condition, fearlessness, which has stopped me from doing something as concrete as jumping off a building. And I long considered myself a coward – and thus hated myself even more – for not having the courage to follow through with a sure-fire, violent attempt. Because I did, and do still believe, that my family and friends (and society as a whole) – while initially aggrieved – would be much better off without me.
I don’t remember much about the night of October 23, or the convergence of events, longstanding circumstances, and obsessive ruminations which pushed me past the edge of fear. I know the suicide attempt wasn’t planned, and the urge came on suddenly – which is unusual for me. All I know is once that fever struck, it was so overwhelming, so absolutely what I HAD to do, that I had to do it immediately, before I lost my nerve.
I had started making dinner when the feelings hit – I quickly tidied up so that my family wouldn’t find a complete pigsty when they learned of my death. I wrote a quick note. Then I poured a shot of rum – to help stave off any creeping doubts or fear – carried it up to the roof with me, downed it, and slowly stepped over the ledge onto my tiled roof top, and jumped.
I fully intended to die that night – it wasn’t my usual, half-ass, suicide attempt. I was done with life, tired of life, and exhausted from trying to re-make myself over and over again. I was tired of continually attempting to navigate – and succeed – in this world; but always falling, and dragging myself back up.