The idea of youth committing suicide mystifies our societal logic. We do not understand the reasons why youth -normally associated with energy, determination and possibilities- turn to such a final act as a solution. Suicide eventually enters all of our lives, either directly or indirectly. However, the situation becomes more cruel and unfair when a youth commits suicide. We can not help but think of the opportunities and potential lost so swiftly for one so young. Although adolescent suicide is a current crisis in today s Canadian society, youth for all of history and in all cultures have resorted to this ultimate form of self-destruction.
Clearly we have and always have had, a teenage dilemma needing desperate attention. Canada is currently in a youth suicide crisis situation. Our suicide rates are above that of the United States as well as other auspicious countries. For example, in young men aged fifteen to nineteen, the rate of suicide is 60 percent higher than in the United States. 1 UNICEF has declared that adolescent suicide is Canada s major tragedy. Our youth are unable to cope and unable to successfully find the kind of help they need to help themselves.
The results are tragic and unnecessary. Youth take their own lives for a plethora of reasons, although none of these reasons should actually constitute an attempt at suicide. What is it then, that brings a teen to commit suicide What factors lead to suicidal tendencies on the part of the adolescent The enigma of youth suicide is multidimensional. As we will discover herein, the major theories on youth suicide can be categorized into three fundamental causes. Adolescent suicide is the result of one, or a combination of an individual s sociology, psychology and biology.
Sociology is the study of human social behavior, especially the study of the origins, organization, institutions, and development of human society. It is therefore important to look to sociology for answers concerning suicide and suicide prevention. Sociological theories of suicide emphasize the role that society and culture play in this kind of self-destructive behaviour. Such theories generally focus on either social structures or social situations. The first sociologist to theorize on suicide and its sociological interpretations was Emile Durkheim.
Durkheim worked during the late 1800 s identifying social structures as the key determinant in self-destructive behaviour. In his work Suicide: A study in Sociology, Durkheim stated that suicide rates increase when a society s value system breaks down. 2 Durkheim believed that the shared values of a society and the mechanisms in place that ensure that its members adhere to these values, is interpreted as a person s social structure. Durkheim suggested two basic factors in social structure that heavily influence the incidence of suicide.
These are regulation and integration. He believed that an individual needs to become part of, and find direction in his own society. Without these factors in place, suicide becomes a common substitute. Teens are often anxious about fitting in to their society (especially among peer groups) so it is clear that integration is essential to adolescence. Durkheim also suggested that it is these two factors that define the relationship of the individual to society. Furthermore, it is precisely this relationship that stands as the underlying cause of suicide, especially among youth.
Beyond these factors are two more typically studied characteristic forms of youth suicide. Again, it is either too much or too little social integration that tends to result in a suicidal adolescent. Intensely regulated societies tend to produce fatalistic suicides among young members of society. Many suicidal teens feel trapped while under excessive constraints or repressive rules. On the other hand are anomic suicides. 3 These youth have much difficulty adjusting to changes within society and family organization.
For example, divorce and death within a youth family tends to be a significant variable. In discussing sociological factors of youth suicide, it must also be mentioned that economic status is also a contributing factor. Although teens of all economic backgrounds commit suicide, among the economically deprived the numbers are significantly higher. Durkheim played a large role in studying the sociological influences on suicides. Many other researchers have followed his approach and sought to connect suicide to general social factors like the disintegration of communities and families, as well as economic distresses.
Some sociologists have suggested that it is an adolescent s interpretation of his social situation, rather than the situation itself that ultimately contributes to the suicide. Other sociologists have also acknowledged that a young individual s personality may influence the interpretation of a given social situation as grounds for suicide. It is at this point that sociological theories begin to merge with psychological interpretations of this subject. Psychological theories view adolescent suicide as an internal matter, and not strictly the result of external social forces.
Sigmund Freud, the man known for founding the field of psychoanalysis, was also responsible for laying the groundwork for psychological thinking on self-destructive behaviour. Freud first came up with the idea that unconscious forces at work in the mind are behind human behaviour. He suggested that a natural inclination toward self-destruction, or death instinct, is the primary cause of suicide. This inclination, or instinct located in the unconscious mind, is in constant conflict with the instinct for survival, or life instinct.
Freud believed that suicide was similar to murder, only it s opposite. He claimed that suicide was murder in reverse. 4 By this he meant that when an individual kills himself, he is turning inward to the hostility he feels toward an outside subject. Further, Freud saw a strong co-relation between the initiation of self-murder and the mourning process. Another psychologist Fenichel, gives a thesis that states, nobody kills himself who had not intended to kill somebody else 5 There have been many suicidal adolescents reported to have experienced the loss of a family member.
Often teens turn to suicide in an attempt to release feelings of anger or loss felt towards the departed individual. These teens often feel anger for being left behind and often blame themselves for the death. Adolescent suicide usually involves this or a similar kind of self-blame, which in turn leads to depression. Later psychological theories expanded on this idea of self-blame, as well as theories of self-abuse. The role of aggression in the teenage suicidal act has been extensively studied. Research has looked at the idea of provoking one s own murder.
Other studies have indicated that accident- prone and excessive risk-taking reflects underlying self-destructive tendencies in adolescents. Freud was among the first psychologists to understand that suicide could be connected with melancholy or depression. Numerous studies to date have established a direct link between depression and self-destructive behaviour. More recent studies in adolescent suicide have emphasized the importance of personality. These theories are centred around a comparison of suicidal and non-suicidal youth. The primary motivation at work in the suicide of depressed teens is the strong desire to escape the condition.
Certain personalities it is argued, have a much greater tendency towards depression and suicide as the response to such depression. Of the fields of study regarding suicide, psychoanalysis stresses the role of the individual psyche while sociology stresses events outside the adolescent, especially social situations that lead to loneliness or failure. Researchers in the third field of study surrounding youth suicide concur that suicide is caused by depression however, they believe that this depression is the result of a biological disorder. Psychoanalysis is concerned with mental processes in the mind.
According to most psychoanalytic theories, the problems in human behaviour are the result of psychiatric disorders or neuroses. Opposite to this theory is the scientist s idea of neurobiology. Neurobiology is interested in how the actual physical processes of the brain influence the ways in which people think and act. Experts in this field contend that physical disorders of the brain underlie most psychiatric problems, including adolescent suicide. Scientists have located various neurotransmitters that are linked to different behaviour patterns.
It is in the study of these neurotransmitters that scientists have begun to uncover a connection between human biology and suicide. In the early 1950s scientists discovered a connection between depression, suicidal tendencies and abnormal levels of the neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine. 6 Anti-depressant drugs were dispensed to patients with increased levels of these neurotransmitters. Scientists noticed an improvement in the level of depression felt by patients after taking such medications. These same scientists linked serotonin with violent and aggressive behaviour.
Because of its association with both depression and aggression, it was believed that the neurotransmitter was linked to suicidal thoughts. Serotonin in low levels was found to occur most commonly in suicidal individuals. It is therefore conclusive that in some individuals, biological explanations are feasible, and with proper intervention suicide can be prevented. However, it has been shown that not all suicidal patients have a lack in serotonin. Therefore it cannot be concluded that neurotransmitters are a sole cause of suicide among any age group.
There is in fact, no single explanation for suicide among youth or any age category. However, in recent years the sociological, psychological and biological investigations into adolescent suicide have become increasingly interconnected. Current research and theories on adolescent suicide have moved toward a multi-faceted approach. This approach recognizes that this issue involves a complex interaction of the three mentioned factors herein. Suicide is therefore a multidimensional disorder and each of these factors must be taken into consideration when attempting to help today s youth with suicidal notions.