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Reducing Suicide: A National Imperative
were found to be more “rootless” and have withdrawn socially compared to case-controls (Appleby et al., 1999; see also Trout, 1980, on the general role of social isolation on suicide). Bille-Brahe (1987) attributes the differences between Norway and Denmark’s suicide rates to be due to difference in social integration; and in Norway, where the level of integration among young men was reported to be in decline, suicide rates among this groups are increasing. Over time, the doubling of the Irish suicide rate since 1945 appears to be directly related to lower levels of regulation and integration (Swanwick and Clare, 1997).
However, social and cultural groups can also be repressive, stifling, and conducive to suicide. In circumstances where the social group demands 100 percent loyalty and commitment, individuals lose their capacity to decide on options to crises. In these “greedy groups” as Coser and Coser (1979) called them, individuals are called on to demonstrate their commitment to the group and its causes by handing over the power of life and death to the group’s needs (See Box 6-1; see right and back side of the social safety net). Under these circumstances, the social network ties of
BOX 6-1Cases of “Altruistic” or “Fatalistic” Suicide: September 11, 2001, Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians
There have been a number of recorded instances of apparently ideologically motivated suicides best explained by understanding the power of the group beliefs over individuals. The terrorists who willingly gave their lives to promote the anti-American cause of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization; the over 700 individuals in Jonestown, Guyana, who drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid; and the members of David Koresh’s religious group who allegedly set fire to their compound in the face of the federal government’s attempt to enter, all represent cases where individuals were expected to give up their lives for the group and its cause. In some cases, there is debate whether these are situations where the attachment to the group was so strong that individuals had handed over their lives willingly (over-integration) or whether there was coercion (over-regulation) involved. Nevertheless, there is no evidence, for example, that the religious extremists who become “martyrs” have a mental illness. Palestinian and Israeli psychiatrists and psychologists who have interviewed “suicide bombers” (recruited or foiled) are impressed with their acceptance of suicide as a highly positive status, a moral status that is elevated by their commitment to a radical religious goal. These are all seen as suicides explained not by individual level decisions or problems but by the power of the social and cultural groups to which individuals belonged (Black, 1990; Maris, 1997; Pescosolido, 1994).