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Suicide: the spatial and social components of despair in Britain 1980–2000

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In this paper we show that, by accounting for the varying influence of just three area indicators of social isolation, it is possible to predict the number of deaths due to suicide and undetermined injuries (most of which are suicides) across a great many areas remarkably closely. The exceptions to this model suggest that in a few unique areas of the country other local, often historical and cultural or intrinsically geographical factors matter also. These findings of the general predictability of suicide matter because suicide is such a common cause of death, particularly for the young. Between 1 January 1981 and 31 December 2000, the underlying cause of the deaths of 130 000 people in Britain were recorded as being directly due to suicide, or in all probability being due to suicide. Collectively, these thousands of personal stories are brought together here to show how a pattern of despair in Britain over this period was spread across the country, affecting different places and different groups in society to differing extents over changing times. The changing geography of despair can be shown to be largely the product of changing economic, social and demographic geographies. This paper is concerned with determining the extent to which the stories of suicide in Britain were more than the sum of thousands of individual acts of misery and the extent to which they reflected the changing social structure of the country. Quantitative analysis is used to identify possible key trends with a more qualitative set of interpretations placed on the possible meanings of these findings. The paper concludes by speculating on how current social trends may influence the future map of the extremes of despair in Britain.
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Keywords: Britain; integration; modelling; social isolation; suicide

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2003-12-01

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