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JAMA 100 Years Ago
March 22/29, 2000


Author Affiliations

JenniferReiling, Editorial Assistant

JAMA. 2000;283(12):1540. doi:10.1001/jama.283.12.1540-JJY00006-2-1

In an address before the Royal Society of Edinburgh, published in a recent issue of The Lancet, Sir John Sibbald, late commissioner in lunacy for Scotland, analyzes the statistics of suicide in that country, and questions some often expressed beliefs on the subject. He does not find suicide more frequent in urban than rural districts, though there are local peculiarities pointing to a race element in the case, showing the Saxon is much more suicidal than the Celt. One striking fact noticed is that the ratio of suicide by hanging, the one method that leaves the least doubt as to its motive, has been unchanged for thirty years, while the increase from other methods in the latter statistics is compensated for by a decrease in the reported deaths by accident from the same causes. From this it would appear the more probable that the apparent increase of self-murder is due rather to greater accuracy in registration than to any actual change for the worse in the facts behind the figures. Another fact that seems to point this way is that in counties where suicides have apparently increased, the reports of "sudden deaths from causes not ascertained," etc., have greatly decreased of late years. From all these facts he concludes that increase of suicide must be regarded as not proven, and protests against the habit of accepting "crude statistics" without due critical examination. If we could accept Dr. Sibbald's criticisms as applicable everywhere, it would be encouraging, but it is questionable whether they can be thus universally applied. Suicide is more common in Paris than in the rural districts of France, and it is apparently more frequent in some cities in this country than in the villages and farming districts. . . . A lack of faith in the future, good or bad, is we believe, a decided stimulus to suicide, or rather perhaps a preventive of its normal inhibition. It is doubtful to us whether Dr. Sibbald's conclusion of not proven may not itself be liable to a similar Scotch verdict if applied to this country. At any rate it would be of interest could we have a similar analysis of statistics for those parts in the United States where such are available and reliable.