Applied Psychology

Creating Awareness of Teen Suicide

Jun 04, 2024 | By Jenna van Schoor
Silhouette of depressed teen, possible thoughts of suicide

Trigger warning: This blog post contains content related to suicide, which may be distressing to some readers. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with mental health problems or experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help using the resources at the end of the article.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for young adults. Even more worrying is the fact that it’s the second leading cause of death for teens in some countries.

These statistics are shocking, but the harsh reality is that there is still stigma and fear around suicide, which makes it even more challenging to talk about. For LGTBQ+ teens or other vulnerable teens, it can feel even more scary to seek help for fear of discrimination. 

Teen Suicide Prevention Week raises awareness about this mental health crisis. Further to this, by educating ourselves about what suicide is, we can empower ourselves and support others.

In this post, we’ll share some of Emile Durkheim’s landmark research in the late 1800s, which is still relevant today. We feel that sharing this information can help us destigmatise suicide and find practical ways to prevent it. 

Emile Durkheim’s research

Emile Durkheim wrote a book called Suicide: A Study in Sociology in 1897. This book is still influential in helping to understand the four types of suicide he identified. 

Durkheim’s efforts to understand it from a social point of view were groundbreaking. His work shows that examining how an individual functions in society can help us gain perspective.

We’ll now further elaborate on the four types of suicide, according to Durkheim, and expand on why studying his sociological approach is helpful for contextualising suicide today. 

Egoistic suicide

The first type of suicide we’ll discuss is egoistic suicide, where you feel like you don’t belong and struggle to find your place in society. In other words, when we focus excessively on individuality, we lose the support and guidance of our social group because we have problems with social integration. 

Considering the social and cultural context of Durkheim’s research, his insights might not always be current. Many have critiqued Durkheim’s data collection and how he gained insights from it, but it’s easy to see how feeling isolated could lead to poor mental health.

In particular, considering that LGBTQ+ teens and other vulnerable teen groups who face discrimination may struggle to seek help, it’s clear that we need to address changing attitudes towards teen issues such as gender, bullying and mental health challenges in our society, in addition to providing adequate mental health support. 

Altruistic suicide

In certain cultures, taking your own life on behalf of the group to save it or further its objectives is honourable. Altruistic suicide can, therefore, come from being so enmeshed in a group’s traditional roles and norms that you would sacrifice yourself. 

We can see this in the example of Japanese kamikaze pilots during World War Two or suicide bombers in today’s contemporary political landscape. This behaviour falls on the other end of the spectrum from egoistic suicide, resulting from extreme social integration, as opposed to lack of integration.

Although altruistic suicide might not be a common factor in teen suicide today, in our current political climate, we need to be aware that extremist ideas might influence teens. In addition, unknown to parents, extremists use the internet to actively recruit others to their cause, and teens may be more vulnerable and susceptible to such influences.  

Therefore, we need to provide the proper support and intervention for those who might begin demonstrating excessive commitment to a cause that advocates extreme and potentially harmful behaviours, possibly culminating in suicide. 

Anomic suicide

Anomie means a lack of a society’s usual ethical or moral standards. Therefore, anomic suicide may happen when there is a high state of stress and frustration in society, coupled with a lack of support and social regulation. 

When society effectively collapses in a state of war, it is easy to see how people could experience poor mental health. Interestingly, this can also occur when people are successful but don’t know how to deal with the pressure of fame or other expectations that come with this success.

To put this into perspective, the social and economic upheaval we have experienced during recent financial crashes, recessions, and the pandemic may influence teen mental health as they struggle to adapt to shifting economic and social pressures. These factors might influence teenagers to commit suicide if they do not have access to social and emotional support. 

Fatalistic suicide

Fatalistic suicide occurs when society overregulates the individual, and people feel oppressed, with no room for individuality and the acceptance thereof. 

This type is, therefore, on the other end of the scale from anomie in that there is too much societal regulation. Examples of this also include slaves taking their own lives to end their bondage, as well as people in abusive relationships who feel like they cannot live on and have no other means of escape.

Teens who feel pressure to conform to societal standards might be at risk for feeling oppressed or if they are the victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying, like any other type of bullying, is sometimes difficult to detect from the outside. Therefore, ensuring teens have access to support is critical.

Are Durkeim’s theories still relevant?

Criticisms aside, the value of Durkeim’s work is that it looks at suicide from a holistic perspective. By understanding each end of the spectrum regarding integration and regulation, we can better identify ways to support teens and other individuals.

Through social work and applied psychology, we can identify societally problematic areas that social or treatment programmes can address. On a smaller scale, we can view our family and work life differently when supporting others and prioritising mental health.

Learn more about mental health with SACAP Global

We’ve approached this article from an academic perspective. However, suicide is a tragedy that can dramatically impact families and society, so finding ways to address and prevent it is crucial. 

If you or anyone you know struggles with suicidal thoughts, you can speak to a trained counsellor at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) or call one of the hotlines below:

  • Love Life Youth Line: 0800 121 900
  • South African Depression and Anxiety Helpline: 0800 567 567 

If you want to understand mental health better, SACAP Global offers various short online courses and workshops. These can provide tools to help manage depression and anxiety, as well as counselling and mental first aid to youth. 

If you’d like to find out more about how to manage your mental health and support others, take a look at some of our related courses below:

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