therapy. Such studies suggest that being exposed to spiritual protective factors may also provide some protection from some types of mental illness associated with suicide.
In some cultures, suicide is morally acceptable under particular circumstances. Although most Western religions forbid suicide (see Chapter 1), some Eastern religions are more accepting. Among Buddhist monks for example, self-sacrifice for religious reasons can be viewed as an honorable act. During the Vietnam War, Buddhist monks set themselves on fire in protest (Kitagawa, 1989). In Japan, attitudes toward suicide are mixed, but some sanction and even glorify suicide when done for “good” reasons for controlling one’s own destiny (Tierney, 1989). The Hindu code of conduct condones suicide for incurable diseases or great misfortune (Weiss, 1994).
Other cultural traditions sanction suicide. For example, in India it is acceptable for a widow to burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre in order to remain connected to her husband rather than to become an out-cast in society. The traditional belief is that with this act, a husband and wife will be blessed in paradise and in their subsequent rebirth (Tousignant et al., 1998). In Japan, hara-kiri was a traditional suicide completed by warriors in the feudal era (Andriolo, 1998) and as recently at 1945 army officers completed suicide after the defeat of Japan (Takahashi, 1997). Suicide by hara-kiri, a disembowelment, is slow and painful and considered by some to symbolize exercising power over death (Takahashi, 1997).
Some cultures see suicide as an acceptable option in particular situations. Suicide in Japan may be a culturally acceptable response to disgrace. Furthermore, it is more acceptable to kill one’s children along with oneself than to complete suicide alone, leaving the children in others’ care (Iga, 1996; Sakuta, 1995). Similarly, in the Pacific region, suicide represents one culturally recognized response to domestic violence (Counts, 1987). Wolf (1975) reports that Chinese women with no children can demonstrate their faithfulness to their husbands through suicide upon their spouse’s death.
Clearly, a society’s perception of suicide and its cultural traditions can influence the suicide rate. Greater societal stigma against suicide is thought to be protective from suicide, while lesser stigma may increase suicide. Chapter 9 discusses further the ways in which stigma and perceptions of suicide may affect suicide and mental health care in general.