Social construction or causal ascription: Distinguishing suicide from undetermined deaths

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Summary

This study reports findings of the first Scottish comparison between suicide and undetermined deaths on a number of sociodemographic and psychiatric variables, and also in relation to the method of death. Logistic regression analysis confirmed that method was the most powerful and significant discriminator (88% of ‘active’ deaths were labelled suicide compared to only 54% of drowning) and also pointed to an interaction between gender and age. The two types of death could not be differentiated by marital status, previous psychiatric contact or social class. Time interval between psychiatric contact and death was not significantly associated with classification of death. The authors conclude that evidence concerning the aetiological significance of prior parasuicide and psychiatric illness in suicide remains valid. The alternative social construction hypothesis, namely that these are criteria used by officials to label an ambiguous death as suicide, finds no support.