Cultural correlates of youth suicide.
Youth suicide has risen in most developed nations over the past 50 years, especially among males, but the increase remains to be explained. Statistical analyses were used to examine associations between youth suicide rates in 11-21 mainly Western, developed nations and 32 socio-economic and cultural variables. The central hypothesis was that suicide rates would be correlated with various cultural measures of social attachment and integration, especially individualism. Socio-economic variables were included in the analysis to demonstrate the relative strength of the cultural associations. The study found a strong positive correlation between male youth suicide rates and subjective measures of health, optimism, and several indices of individualism, including personal freedom and control. Correlations between female youth suicide and individualism were smaller, attaining significance in only one instance. Male youth suicide and individualism were negatively correlated with older people's sense of parental duty. Correlations between suicide and other possibly relevant cultural variables--tolerance of suicide, belief in God and national pride--were not significant. The analysis of socio-economic variables yielded only one significant, but doubtful, correlation. The findings can be interpreted as supporting two very different hypotheses: that youth suicide represents "an island of misery in an ocean of happiness" or "the tip of an iceberg of suffering". In favouring the latter interpretation, and consistent with Durkheim's theories on suicide, it is argued that increased youth suicide reflects a failure of Western societies to provide appropriate sites or sources of social identity and attachment, and, conversely, a tendency to promote unrealistic or inappropriate expectations of individual freedom and autonomy.
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