Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 51.djvu/196

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IN the discussion of the increase of suicide in the United States, a great deal has been said in the consideration of the act as a crime, but little, comparatively, in reference to its causes or to those preventives which society has power to enforce. Dr. D. R. Dewey, who some years ago made a careful study of the question as it related to the New England States, declared that since the year 1860 suicide had increased in those States to the extent of thirty-five per cent. This percentage, with but slight variations, will probably apply to all other States of the Union where there is great industrial and commercial activity.

Suicide is so violent a reversal of that strongest instinct of Nature—the instinct of self-preservation—that its causes and preventives will always be the subject of deep and careful investigation. If it is on the increase, there must be causes for its increase, and these causes being ascertained, it is then our duty to devise means for its prevention. Insanity, heredity, financial reverses, and domestic complications may be direct incentives to suicide, but back of them all is the real cause—the growth of a nervous, disordered temperament in the American people. The steady habits of our colonial ancestors no longer satisfy us, and, as a consequence, those amusements, those ventures and schemes which excite the mind and nervous system to the highest degree are becoming more and more prominent. This, no doubt, is the fundamental cause of all suicide. But it is only with the direct incentive that society is capable of dealing, and these direct causes are so numerous and varied that it is almost impossible to classify them with any degree of accuracy. The individual may be impelled to self-destruction by circumstances, by an innate craving or instinct, by an uncontrollable impulse, by the unhealthy reasoning of a disordered intellect, and by many other influences. Suicides may therefore be divided into two great classes—those in which reason is called upon to decide between life and death, and those which are due to impulse or insanity. In the former class the self-destroyer has, after reasoning upon his condition, come to the conclusion that death is the most acceptable of impending evils. In this class may be placed all those suicides due to sickness, financial embarrassment, ungratified ambition, the desire to escape justice, and causes of a like nature.

Among the second class, or those self-murders which are the direct or indirect outcome of insanity, may be included all cases of persons who are impelled to destroy their lives when insane, of