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Suicide triggers in Les Misérables
Background: Suicide has been recorded throughout history. The triggers of suicide are not fully understood. The belief has been promoted that all suicide is the result of mental disorder. Published fiction can give useful information regarding life and typical reactions of the people of a time and place.
Aim: To understand the triggers of suicide.
Method: We explored accounts and triggers of suicide as depicted in the novel Les Misérables (19th century, Paris) and compared this information to previous and current evidence.
Results: There were no reports of suicide being triggered by mental disorder. There were two reports of the threat of suicide being used to manipulate/influence others, and three reports of suicide being considered as a solution to poverty and loss of a loved object. There were four accounts of suicide completed as a means of avoiding life circumstances.
Conclusion: The concepts and triggers of suicide were similar to those encountered in both the past and present. Hence these triggers have veracity and support the view that “every suicide is a solution to a problem”.
Key messages: There is a pervasive popular view that mental illness is implicated in the vast majority of suicide. In this study, it was demonstrated that suicide is an acceptable response to adversity in 19th century Paris. This has implications for the modern understanding of suicide triggers.
Publication titleDynamics of Human Health
Department/SchoolTasmanian School of Medicine
Place of publicationNew Zealand