The Prevalence of Suicide in the U.S.

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Suicide is a global problem attracting attention of a wide range of experts in different spheres: sociologist, demographers, general and military psychologist, physiologists, forensic medics, etc. Attitude to suicide has been changing throughout history, and though it is not perceived as a crime anymore, it is a matter of anxiety from the psychological viewpoint. Paradoxically, with all the modern society’s tolerance this phenomenon is now more widespread than ever, caused by the fast pace of modern life and availability of various methods. Thus, suicide is a ubiquitous problem having most relevance for psychological studies.

Nowadays one of the approaches to self-murder includes geographic factor. The United States present a special interest to scholars studying suicide due to the large and diverse population. Legal side of self-murder in America embraces doctor-assisted suicide and status of felos-de-se. Suicide in relation to psychology is mostly studied focusing on the premises (conditions breaching the self-preservative instinct) reaction of people to it, ways of prevention and rehabilitation from the attempts. The United States, for example, differ from many other countries by fact of hosting a Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a governmental National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. America with its vast research field explained by the prevalence of the phenomenon stays in the professional focus of many psychologists, which makes the country relevant to the topic.

The notion of suicide is crucial to define. Thus, for example, Vernon J. Geberth calls suicide “the intentional taking of one's own life” (Geberth, 1996). Similar definition – “the act of intentionally ending one's own life” – is given by a group of other American scholars (Nock et al., 2008). Due to a non-specified definition regarding outcomes traditionally fatal and nonfatal (attempted) suicide is delimitated (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2012). One may conclude that classification of types of this act is the major factor for its defining.

The suicide statistics also differentiates between the finished acts and attempts. Thus, as Scientific American suggests, annually millions of people worldwide try to kill themselves — and approximately one million of them succeed (Springen, 2010). The same scholar provides national data referring to the ages of persons committing suicide claiming that this reason takes the 11th place for popularity in America and that 15- to 24-year-olds die this way in one third of all lethal cases (Springen, 2010). Forensic experts maintain that teenage and early age self-murder becomes “epidemic in proportion to representation within society” (Geberth, 1996). As one may see, the figures are rather striking, especially concerning the younger generation which is naturally more psychologically vulnerable and generally belonging to risk group. The dynamics of suicide data in America is disturbing: 2010 was the fist year in the decade which witnessed the first major increase in numbers. One of the explanations of such a wave of suicides may be economic situation in the country, and financial difficulties seem to be one of the self-murder triggers for a lot of Americans, both common citizens and those in positions of authorities.

The data on the U.S. proves notable variability in the frequency of registering suicidal behavior but consistency in age groups, transition probabilities, and major risk factors (Nock et al., 2008). The same authors conclude their research by the statement that accomplished self-murders are more prevalent among men, whereas nonfatal suicidal behaviors are more characteristic among such population groups as women, minors and young people, also the unmarried or those having a psychiatric disorder. Such statistics may be explained by the fact that transition is easier to arrive at being in the risk group, but the actual disastrous outcome is more likely for persons with a strong will and resolution. What concerns ethnicity, lately the statistics have been substantially supported by Caucasians aged between 40 and 64 (Springen, 2010). Five years later the nationality-related suicide figures in the USA presented such a list (in descending order): Native Americans, Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, Non-Hispanic Blacks and Asian Americans (Tartaro & Lester, 2009).

Risk groups are one of the major aspects of suicide studies in psychology. They maintain the idea that some groups of people are more predisposed to suicidal acts due to certain features of character they possess, like ability to endure pain and impulsive behavior (sometimes enhanced by alcoholic or drug abuse) leading to fearlessness (Springen, 2010). Geberth draws clear parallels between depression and suicide and explains symptoms, clinical scenarios, motives and other elements of suicidal behavior relevant to another branch dealing with this problem – forensic, and emphasizing the role of psychology of suicide for investigations (Geberth, 1996). It should be noted that together with risk factors protective factors may be delimitated, as defined by Suicide Prevention Research Center. The experts of the abovementioned body have divided both risk and protective factors into biopsychological, environmental and sociocultural. Biopsychological ones include a mental history of a person and some character inclinations like hopelessness and aggressiveness (Risk and protective factors for suicide, 2001). Unfortunately, possessing some risk factors (like history of attempts) may be a stable feature for a person. In such cases people surrounding a victim of suicide must be very cautious regarding traces of suicidal ideation, as every serious stress might trigger a wish to accomplish the intended act (Orquendo et al., 1999). However, data reveals positive dynamics showing that nowadays more suicidal persons are actually treated than try to commit self-murder (Nock et al., 2008). This fact might find explanation in the active work towards preventing suicidal behavior led in America, which once again proves the relevance of research location.

With all the theoretic basis of the research, its practical aspect is not sufficiently developed in psychology. Scholars note that although it has been studied what risk factors can predict suicidal ideas, plans and attempts, practically no researches have been devoted to investigating behavior that helps predict the crucial moment of transition from ideation to actual acts (Nock et al., 2008). It must be taken into consideration in suicide studies in general and in this work in particular.

The aim of the given work is to explore the prevalence of suicide throughout the United States in synchrony, i.e., at the present moment. The research will include group sessions with young survivals of both genders in public hospitals. An important element of scientific investigation is defining the transition moment from suicidal ideas to committing. Practical work will also incorporate comprehensive interviewing of families of survivals in order to trace emotional background behind every case, possible noticed premises and the changes of attitude towards a relative-felos-de-se.

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