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Crisis. 1998;19(2):78-86.

Religious sanctions and rates of suicide worldwide.

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Mercy Hospital, South Infirmary, Cork, Ireland.


In order to understand differences in suicide rates between the countries affiliated to the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), the present paper investigates whether there is a relationship between the existence of religious sanctions and aggregate national suicide rates as reported to the World Health Organization. Through their participation in this study, 49 IASP national representatives reported on the existence of religious sanctions against suicide. It was discovered that countries with religious sanctions were less likely to return rates of suicide to the WHO. Comparative analysis revealed that the average reported rates for countries with sanctions are lower than those for countries without religious sanctions. The difference is particularly significant for females. Overall, then, at an aggregate level, it would appear that an inverse relationship does exist; however, while countries with religious sanctions against suicide return lower rates of suicide, as recorded by the WHO, recording and reporting procedures may be affected by the existence of sanctions, thus diminishing the reliability of reported rates. Furthermore, distinctions between rates among the different denominations seem to have been somewhat blurred, in particular between Catholics and Protestants, to the extent that in certain societies Catholics have a higher reported rate of suicide--despite the fact that, doctrinally, Catholicism is more severe in the condemnation of suicide than the majority of Protestant churches (with a few notable exceptions, such as the Orthodox Calvinists).

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