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Dr. Hendin, author of Black Suicide and Suicide and Scandinavia, now explores--through a conscientious, cautious blend of statistics, case histories, and analysis--""how psychic, social, and cultural factors are interwoven to produce suicidal behavior in Americans with very different backgrounds."" Ironically, however, though Hendin repeatedly stresses the limitations of a purely psychological approach, the findings here--on young, old, alcoholics, homosexuals--are mostly inconclusive, with Hendin usually returning to a basic psychoanalytic model. He first examines suicide in the 15-24 age group, which has skyrocketed over the past 25 years: a theory linking this upswing to the baby-boom is suggested, but for the most part youthful suicides are seen to result, unsurprisingly, from ""disturbed family relationships,"" with other ostensible causes--school pressures, etc.--usually symptoms of the more fundamental, longstanding problem. Likewise, though cultural attitudes toward the elderly may contribute, studies ""suggest that the vulnerability of older people to suicide is a function of. . . lifelong problems in dealing with such issues as attachment to others and performance in work or in family life."" The short chapters on homosexuality and alcoholism, too, suggest some contributing social factors but chiefly link suicide to deep-seated maladjustments. Only in the chapter on the direct suicide/violence relationship in young blacks (in whites the relation is inverse) does the personal/social analysis seem truly integrated. In this short book's second half, however, Hendin moves, with more sharp-focused success, to other aspects of suicide: a brief look at the suicide's choice of method (with a snidely effective attack on over-Freudian theorizing); a shrewd consideration of therapy, which can make suicide less likely but which is often handicapped by the therapist's own anxieties or needs (""The therapist's wish to see himself as the suicidal patient's savior may blind [him] to the fact that the patient has cast him in the role of executioner""); comments on the failure of suicide-prevention programs, on the pros and cons of hospitalization, on the drawbacks of de-institutionalization reforms; and--most impressively--a simple but eloquent response to ""right to suicide"" rhetoric. An uneven but worthy contribution to the suicide literature, then--only occasionally illuminating as psycho-social research but strong and useful (especially for those in the helping professions) on day-to-day, practical issues.

Pub Date: April 19th, 1982
Publisher: Norton