By in Science

Suicide: Personal Trouble or Public Issue?

During the 19th century, Emile Durkheim had conducted a research about suicide. There had been an increasing rate in the number of people committing suicide. Emile Durkheim attempted to explain scientifically the causes of such phenomenon. The research of Durkheim paved the way for the emergence of sociology as a prominent social science, which concluded that the reasons for committing suicide were not personal but sociological (Spaulding and Simpson, 1951).

As a scientific investigation, the study of Durkheim had independent variables, which were religious affiliation, marital status, military/civilian status, and economic conditions. Durkheim pointed out that the mentioned factors can be the possible causes of the suicide rate, which was the dependent variable (Spaulding and Simpson, 1951). To explain briefly, the independent variables are the causes of the dependent variable, which is the main subject of the study. The researcher would explain the effects of the independent variables unto the dependent variable. For Durkheim, the increase in suicide rate can be identified systematically through the scientific method. In the said study, Durkheim’s hypothesis or the tentative statement was that the suicide rate would vary in terms of religion (Protestants, Catholics, Jews), marital status (single people and married people), military status (soldiers and civilians), and economic conditions (boom, bust, or stability).

For that matter, a hypothesis, which is an essential part of a research, is an educated guess or the way the variables are interconnected prior to the outcomes. It was found out that:

• Suicide was higher among Protestants than Catholics, and lowest among Jews.

• It was high among single people than married people and lowest among married people with children.

• The rate of suicide declined with each additional child a parent had.

• Suicide was higher among soldiers than among civilians. It was higher for officers than enlisted men, and among enlisted men, it was higher for volunteers than draftees.

• The suicide rate was higher in times of economic depression and economic booms than during more stable periods.

As a social scientist, Durkheim systematically and critically discerned the patterns of the increase in the suicide rate by connecting the independent variables with the dependent variable. Consequently, Durkheim led to conclude that the reasons for the increase in suicide were not purely personal nor psychological but sociological. More importantly, he was able to formulate three kinds of suicide because of the study. These are egoistic suicide, altruistic suicide and anomic suicide (Spaulding and Simpson, 1951).

People who opted for egoistic suicide were not strongly connected with a social group, according to Durkheim. This may imply that the reason for committing suicide is the feeling of helplessness because of the unsupported social group. On the other hand, altruistic suicide is usually done by people who are deeply committed to group norms and goals. So, people commit such suicide for a social cause. The last type of suicide, in Durkheim’s analysis, is the anomic suicide. This is committed by people who could not cope with the rapid change of the society. People tend to lose their goal or meaning in life because of their inability to adjust to the fast phased life that a modern society imposes upon them (Spaulding and Simpson, 1951).

With the gathered data and coupled with a sociological insights, Durkheim concluded that the kind of suicide that was occurring that time was the anomic suicide. There were many people who were committing suicide due to the rapid changes of a modern society. The more modern the society is, the higher the suicide rate. Thus, the main causes were sociological or structural because of the breaking down of the norms and the loosening of the connection of the individuals to the social groups. Basically, the results of the study of Durkheim were accepted by the academic community and have propelled the popularity of sociology as a social science during that era.


Durkheim, Emile translated by John A. Spaulding and George Simpson, and edited with an introduction by George Simpson. Suicide: A Study in Sociology Copyright 1951 by The Free Press

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gidget wrote on July 17, 2014, 10:58 AM

This was a very interesting study on suicide. I have lost a few friends to suicide through the years and never thought of the diffeerent aspects to it.

Ruby3881 wrote on October 16, 2014, 2:32 AM

I had no idea that sociology started out with a study on suicide! How fascinating :)

rana199426 wrote on December 10, 2014, 12:18 PM

Can be both, in my opinion emoticon :smile:

GemOfAGirl wrote on December 18, 2014, 9:39 PM

I'm actually surprised that someone studied suicide rates in the 19th century. I always think of sociology as a more 20th-century science.

zaib009 wrote on January 8, 2015, 4:12 AM

To it is more like social problem than of the personal one

Deema wrote on May 2, 2015, 3:18 PM

I definitely think it is both, because in certain countries there is not enough support for people who are suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression or even medical conditions that lead to depression. Either these services are too expensive or do not exist.

CoralLevang wrote on July 25, 2015, 2:19 PM

Fascinating study on suicide. It would be most interesting, however, to see how the patterns have changed from this 1951 study throughout the years through today, 64 years later.

Feisty56 wrote on July 25, 2015, 4:21 PM

It seems so obvious to me in this era that there would be a science of sociology, but it is still in its infancy compared to many of the other studies of science.

RonElFran wrote on July 25, 2015, 4:26 PM

With the occurrence almost every week of a mass shooting where the shooter ends up killing himself, suicide research is more needed than ever before. I hope Durkheim's scientific descendants are on the job.