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Martyrs’ Last Letters: Are They the Same as Suicide Notes?

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Of the 800,000 suicides worldwide every year, a small number fall under Emile Durkheim’s term of altruistic suicides. Study on martyrdom has been limited. There has to date, for example, been no systematic empirical study of martyr letters. We examined 33 letters of Korean self-immolators, compared with 33 suicide notes of a matched sample of more common suicides. An analysis of intrapsychic factors (suicide as unbearable pain, psychopathology) and interpersonal factors (suicide as murderous impulses and need to escape) revealed that, although one can use the same psychological characteristics or dynamics to understand the deaths, the state of mind of martyrs is more extreme, such that the pain is reported to be even more unbearable. Yet, there are differences, such as there was no ambivalence in the altruistic notes. It is concluded that intrapsychic and interpersonal characteristics are central in understanding martyrs, probably equal to community or societal factors. More forensic study is, however, warranted.
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Keywords: altruistic suicide; forensic science; intrapsychic and interpersonal characteristics; martyrs' letters; martyrs’; suicide; suicide bombers; suicide notes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: 880 Ouellette Avenue, Suite 7806, Windsor, ON, Canada N9A 1C7. 2: Human Development and Family Studies, The Pennsylvania University at Du Bois, PA 15801. 3: Centre for Addiction & Mental Health, University of Toronto, 1001 Queen Street West, Unit 3-4, Toronto, ON, Canada M6J 1M3. 4: Department of Educational Psychology, 6-102 Education North, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6G 2G5.

Publication date: 2010-05-01

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