Every year there are about 1,000,000 suicide attempts in the United States and around 50,000 people succeed. From 1999 to 2014 suicide rates have significantly increased by 24%, which means that from a group of 100,000 people 13 will commit suicide. (AFSP, 2017) Several factors such as persons’ feelings or psychological conditions play a role when contemplating suicide. Emile Durkheim one of the founders of sociology, believed that suicide was not purely a personal decision but was influenced by the structure of society.
Durkheim lived in France during the 1870s when it was under France’s Third Republic and during this time period, there were a lot of changes being made. Due to industrialization, France was going through major technological, economic, and religious changes. (Little, 2012) The authority of the Catholic Church weakened and there was a shift from a traditional to modern society. Durkheim realized that during this time period there was a massive increase in suicide rates and he concluded it had to do with social integration in which people knew their purpose. In a traditional society, people knew their place, purpose and how they are related to other people.
As society started to shift and go through change there was a loss of social integration and people were less strongly bound to their society. This theory can still apply to today’s modern world because as people start to shift away from their society this results in a weaker common consciousness which creates a feeling of isolation.
The article “When ultra-religious Hasidic women choose to lead secular lives, their freedom often comes at a price” by Brigit Katz introduces the tragic story of Faigy Mayer, a young woman who committed suicide after leaving a highly religious community.
Mayer grew up in Brooklyn in the Belz Community where she was part of a Hasidism, a Jewish religious group. She explained how she never fit into the community and would often question her beliefs. Mayer was the deviance in her community which meant that she was violating standards because she would question the beliefs. As stated in the text “She described her disinterest in religious studies, and the sense of loneliness she experienced as a child because she could not share her affinity for pop culture with her peers.” (Katz, 2015) From a young age she felt as if she didn’t fit in and in 2010, Mayer decided to leave the group and lead a secular life.
In this process, Mayer lost contact with her family which created this sense of isolation. Members that leave this community have a difficult time because they are shunned by their families and communities. Once they leave they struggle with their lives because people of the Belz Community do not receive a proper education and therefore it is difficult to find a job. “Those who do leave the community have a great deal of difficulty getting by in a world that is not dictated by a set of obscure religious customs.” (Katz, 2015) This shows the challenges that Mayer went through once leaving the community.
Durkheim published the first book on the studies of suicide, in which he explains social factors that may cause suicide and the four typologies of suicide which are Anomic suicide, Altruistic suicide, Egoistic suicide, Fatalistic suicide. Durkheim concludes that suicide is the result of social disorganization.
One reason may be Anomic suicide, Anomie is a social condition which there is a disappearance of norms and values in a former society, a person might feel confused or disconnected that they may choose to commit suicide. Mayers case was an Anomie suicide in which she was detached from her community and she felt as if she didn’t fit in, in either society. Her life outside of the community was successful for Mayer because she was an aspiring entrepreneur, however, because of anomie she had felt that disappearance of the norms and values that were common to her previous community.
This concept was thought of as normlessness, Durkheim believed that once the factor of normlessness was gone you may fall into anomie. In the article Mayer states that “I’ve sort of lost all my family…I hope to be an inspiration for others who leave, although, given my story, I’m not sure I recommend it for everyone.” (Katz, 2015) This shows how once she left her society, she was going through hardships and she didn’t recommend this step for everyone.
Durkheim helped deepen our understanding of society and the causes of suicide. In Mayers case, she felt separated from others and society itself. There are many others like Mayer that choose to leave religious communities and go through a difficult time with continuing their lives. Organizations like Footsteps offer support to ex-Orthodox Jews to help them transition into their new lives. Hopefully, more programs will be created to help guide people to a better life for themselves.
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