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Suicide and Western Culture


Pridmore, S and McArthur, ML, Suicide and Western Culture, Australasian Psychiatry, 17, (1) pp. 42-50. ISSN 1039-8562 (2009) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2009 The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

DOI: doi:10.1080/10398560802596843


Objective: The aim of this paper is to examine the cultural roots and transmission of Western suicide and suicidal behaviour.

Method: We explored a period of antiquity (mythical Greece - 61 CE) and selected accounts of 10 prominent suicides. The precipitating circumstances were tabulated and an assessment made of the most likely attendant emotions. The same process was followed for a recent period (1994-2008), from which 10 suicides were identified. The precipitating circumstances and the attendant emotions were compared. These circumstances and emotions were then compared to statements commonly encountered in clinical practice from people demonstrating suicidal behaviour. Finally, we looked for evidence that these stories (and the response models) had entered Western culture.

Results: Precipitating circumstances, loss of a loved one, actual or imminent execution or imprisonment, other losses and public disgrace, and the negative emotions of shame, guilt, fear, anger, grief and sorrow were common to both historical periods. These circumstances and emotions are similar to those commonly expressed by people who have demonstrated suicidal behaviour. There was a clear record (literature, visual arts) of these stories forming part of our cultural heritage.

Conclusion: Models of maladaptive responses to certain adverse circumstances are part of Western culture. Suicide as a response to certain circumstances and negative emotions can be traced back more than 2000 years. Cultural change will be necessary to minimize suicide.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:antiquity, modern era, suicide, Western culture
Research Division:Health Sciences
Research Group:Health services and systems
Research Field:Mental health services
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Public health (excl. specific population health)
Objective Field:Mental health
UTAS Author:Pridmore, S (Professor Saxby Pridmore)
UTAS Author:McArthur, ML (Dr Milford McArthur)
ID Code:57989
Year Published:2009
Web of Science® Times Cited:15
Deposited By:Psychiatry
Deposited On:2009-08-31
Last Modified:2013-12-18

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