Because he believed that the methods chosen in suicides merely refl ected familiarity and opportunity, the study of methods ‘has nothing to teach us’ about the social causes of suicides themselves (Durkheim 1951: 293). Durkheim’s position is not that taken by other early suicidologists such as Morselli and Halbwachs. Halbwachs, for example, asked pointedly whether ‘since every suicide results from the collaboration of decision and means, has one the right to neglect the latter?’ (Halbwachs 1978: 28). Using similar data from nineteenth century Europe, Morselli and Halbwachs both emphasised the remarkably consistent national patterns in choice of method of suicide. Even when suicide rates were rapidly increasing, the methods by which these suicides were completed remained constant over time. Different nationalities preferred different methods of suicide, tied both to logistical concerns (the accessibility of a particular method) and the social factors mentioned by Durkheim. For example, Scandinavians committed suicide by drowning far less frequently than all others in Europe and it is suggested that this was because of the extreme coldness of their waterways for most of the year. Also, the English hanged themselves far less frequently than all others in Europe and for this it was suggested that the social injunction against hanging was due to its use as a method of punishment for criminals. Further, Halbwachs suggested that national ‘temperament’ may play a part in method preference, that the ‘chivalrous spirit’ of the Spanish and Italians might have contributed to their national preference for dramatic and aesthetic forms of suicide – fi rearms and poison (Halbwachs 1978: 40). To emphasise this consistency even more, Morselli demonstrated that even when persons emigrated to

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This is not to say that there are not variations in choice of method of suicide both within nations themselves and between national groups. Morselli demonstrated that there were distinct differences between city and country areas in regards to method of suicide. Cities had peculiar patterns of their own, in part an avoidance of ‘ignoble’ forms of suicide by the sophisticated classes. In country areas, however, away from the infl uence of urban society, hanging and drowning were much more common. Also, Morselli reported distinct variations in preferred mode of suicide between the regions of Italy, with more violent methods being employed in the southern provinces (Morselli 1881: 334). There was also a common pattern whereby women, though committing suicide less frequently than men, chose different methods to do so. Commonly, women drowned themselves far more frequently than men and used violent methods, such as fi rearms, far less. These patterns in method of suicide have changed somewhat over the last century however, for reasons of both availability and acceptance. The historically low rates of hanging in England and Wales have dramatically increased since the prohibition of capital punishment in 1965 (Pounder 1993). Removing the stigma appears to have made hanging more socially acceptable. Similarly, making a form of suicide more available, such as in the case of fi rearms in the US, also dramatically increases the number of suicides utilising this method. Since the early 1960s fi rearms have been increasingly easier to obtain in the US and the increase in the number of suicides using fi rearms accounted for almost all increases in suicide rates to at least 1975 (Boor 1981). The increase in high-density housing has also been accompanied by an increase in the rates of ‘jumping’ deaths, particularly in Asia (Cheng and Lee 2000). Making a form of suicide less available or less lethal is an effective way of reducing the suicide rate. When Britain reduced the carbon monoxide content of the domestic gas supply, the suicide rate fell sharply though the number of attempted suicides increased (Boor 1981). Similar fi ndings were reported after Vienna reduced the lethality of its gas supply. Similarly changes to the packaging of paracetamol in the UK led to changes in the use of the drug in suicide attempts. Thus some changes are noted in the methods of suicide over time, but it nonetheless remains one of the most stable characteristics of suicidal behaviour nonetheless. Examining the Indian data regarding method of suicide shows this largely consistent character. McLeod reported very similar patterns of method of suicide in 1878 as are found in India today (McLeod 1878). Working principally in Bengal, McLeod reported that hanging and poisoning were the two dominant methods of suicide in this region, poisoning usually taking the form of opium overdose (McLeod 1878: 402). There were important regional differences, however, like those described by Morselli. Hanging was customary in the Bengal (now West Bengal and the independent nation Bangladesh) and Orissa while poisoning was dominant in Bihar. Unlike the urban-rural differences noted by Morselli however, McLeod reported that the pattern of method of suicide for Calcutta, the largest city in the region, was the same as the region at large (McLeod 1878: 402).