Understanding mid-life suicide
19 October 2011
Understanding Suicide: A Sociological Autopsy
Mid life is the peak time for committed relationships, parenthood and work responsibilities. While there is widespread concern about suicide by young people, UK suicide rates are in fact highest in the 40-44 age group.
A new book launched this week tells the stories of suicides across all ages, particularly highlighting the pressures on those in mid life.
Social ties of work and family are typically strongest in mid-life and the stakes can be very high when they are threatened. Strong ties can protect people against social problems, but when these break down, some people end up in crisis. The book argues that suicide prevention strategies need to pay more attention to the risks facing people at all ages, rather than focusing on young people.
The book, Understanding Suicide: A Sociological Autopsy, is based on research into 100 suicide cases from a coroner’s office in the UK. It looks at both statistical trends and the complex stories of individual suicide cases. Professor Lord Anthony Giddens, former Director of the London School of Economics, has said the book is “a major contribution to the study of suicide ...... it will become a landmark study in the field.”
The book also asks why men in the UK are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. The authors conclude the reason is not simply because men are reluctant to ask for help. Men and women react in different ways to challenging life events, because social ties have different kinds of significance. Problems related to children were more common in women’s suicides. Problems related to work and relationship breakdown were more common for men.
One of the authors, Professor Jonathan Scourfield from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences, said: “We see some men killing themselves impulsively when they learn their ex-wife or girlfriend has found a new partner. Other men kill themselves when separated from their children. When women killed themselves after a failed relationship this tended to be about over-dependence on the ex-partner.”
“Although understandably suicide in young people causes a great deal of concern, those responsible for prevention strategies need to keep in mind that most suicides occur in mid-life and men are particularly vulnerable.