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Theories of suicide : a review of social attitudes and sociological and psychological theories, and their social work implications. Wallis, Ian Douglas


It is becoming increasingly apparent that suicide is a socio-psychiatric phenomenon with etiological roots in both the social system and in the individual personality. Suicide as a problem is worth studying for only as further research sheds light on the complexity of motives and causes can clinical and educative programmes be improved and social policies and changes be introduced. In the past the treatment of attempted suicide has been the prerogative of psychiatry but with the realization that the suicide act has important social aspects, the place of the social worker is being given greater emphasis. This thesis examines social attitudes toward self-destruction as they have evolved through the course of the history of civilization. It reviews the major theories which have been advanced to account for the occurrence of suicide, classifying them broadly into two groups: those which assign the causes to various forms of social disorganization and those which assign the causes to psychic disturbances and disorders. It is recognized that these approaches to the problem — the sociological and the psychological — are complementary and that a consideration of their mutual relevance is especially important in planning the establishment of effective preventive services. The existing treatment and preventive facilities are critically examined as is the present state of the law regarding suicide. It is concluded that the law rests on ecclesiastical postulates which no longer appear binding in a predominantly secular society. Some proposals for the development of a treatment and prevention programme are made in light of the experimental work of the Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles.

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