The increasing incidence of suicide: economic development, individualism, and social integration
Despite significant improvement in physical health, suicide continues to represent a significant burden in the economically advanced countries. Given that the causes of suicide are not fully known, and that suicide cannot be predicted nor prevented at the individual level, national suicide rates might best be reduced by reducing the overall number of people exposed to suicide risk factors. However, economic development promotes individualism and low social integration, both of which increase suicide risk. For example, high female labor force participation and divorce, indicative of low social integration, are associated with higher suicide rates. Similarly, there appear to be social and psychological disadvantages in having strong individualistic values, particularly within individualistic cultures. For example, individualists have smaller and less satisfying social support networks, report more feelings of hopelessness, and are more likely to think about suicide. As such, economic development may actually promote rather than decrease suicide risk, a function of excessive individualism and low social integration, thus contributing to higher national suicide rates in the economically advanced countries.