Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Who's Got My Back?": A Neo-Durkheimian Analysis of Suicidality and Perceptions of Social Support in British Columbia and Saskatchewan

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Who's Got My Back?": A Neo-Durkheimian Analysis of Suicidality and Perceptions of Social Support in British Columbia and Saskatchewan

Article excerpt

"... when [individuals] are in solidarity with a group that they love, they are more obstinate about living." (Durkheim [1897] 2006: 225).


Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in Canada; among those who are under 24 years of age it is the second, and for those in the 25-44 age group it is the third leading cause of death. Suicide accounts for 20 percent of deaths for those under 24, and 16 percent for those 25-44; it ranked second among the five leading causes of death in 2012 (Statistics Canada 2015; Navaneelan 2012). The survey data analysed here revels a population in which 22.9% of persons report having thought seriously about suicide in the past twelve months. So, while suicide is widely regarded an indicator of social pathology, the prevalence of suicidal ideation (suicidality) should be too.

Over one hundred years after his death, Durkheim's book On Suicide ([1897] 2006, orig. Le Suicide) remains a significant resource for explaining suicide and societal pathology. However, Durkheim's own project, and much of the research that followed, focused on aggregated data of the relatively rare reports of accomplished suicides and did not systematically attend to what is now called "suicidality" at the individual level. Moreover, generations of scholars who followed Durkheim's methodology focus on objective social-structural explanations of suicide, neglecting subjective elements inherent in suicidality.

We revisit key components of Durkheim's sociology to incorporate the consideration of individuals' perceptions of the quality of their social life. Doing so is sociologically pertinent for understanding social pathology because it serves as an available indicator of the quality of social institutions that affect people's vulnerabilities to suffering, thus contributing to the analysis of the causes and consequences of such suffering (cf. Pearce 2001: 119-120). We focus on the subjective dimensions of social life to help explain suicidal ideation at the individual level, specifically, given a milieu of objective integrative social forces in social institutions (the practical domain perceived by individuals). In doing so we thus incorporate macro-micro explanations of suicide to analyse relationships between individual reports of suicidality and potentially pathological states of the social milieux in which individuals are imbricated. Our data source is the Canadian Community Health Survey (2009-10 and 2011-2012, hereafter "CCHS"), and the focus is on the provinces of British Columbia and Saskatchewan for which the most pertinent data has been collected. Results confirm that individuals' perceptions of accessible social support protect against suicidal ideation.


The central thesis of On Suicide (Durkheim [1897] 2006) is that changes in the "social suicide rate" are caused by modal variations in "integration" and "regulation" in the main institutions in which people live (e.g., familial, political, religious, and occupational). Given the valorization of personhood, individualism, and humanity in modern Europe, the marked increase in the social suicide rate in Durkheim's view was symptomatic of societal pathologies emerging from the changes to social institutions (e.g., the waning impact of the family and religion), themselves being articulated by anomic developments conferred in industrial societal structures of the late nineteenth century Europe. Typically for Durkheim, integration broadly refers to collective activities tied to people's sense of group belonging, plus the power of reciprocal obligations (Durkheim [1897] 2006: 284). In contrast, regulation refers to how social/moral forces shape people's expectations about just and appropriate ways of living (Durkheim [1897] 2006: 269-270), placing limits on the satisfaction of desires that by definition have no natural limit and hence are infinite, such as those for money, influence, and power (Durkheim [1897] 2006: 281-2; Hodwitz and Frey 2016). …

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