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Elder Suicide
Durkheim's Vision
Stephen M. Marson
ISBN: 978-0-87101-540-2. 2019. Item #5402. 184 pages.
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Earn 4.5 CEUs for reading this title! For more information, visit the Social Work Online CE Institute.

Suicide among the elderly occurs at a higher rate than those of other age cohorts, is more successful, and has the lowest rates of failed attempts. Gerontological practitioners must be aware of what leads to elder suicide, as the victims are unlikely to call attention to the matter themselves before they make an attempt.

Stephen Marson has spent over 40 years as a practicing social work gerontologist, studying the sociological theories for suicide intervention of elderly clients. Ultimately, Marson determined that Emile Durkheim’s theory of suicide was the perfect fit for understanding suicidal distress in older adults. Rather than focusing on psychological diagnoses, he uses Durkheim’s theory to identify fatalistic, anomic, egoistic, and altruistic environmental circumstances that create suicide potential.

Marson addresses these four dimensions, and explores the gerontological research and social history that illustrate the evidence. He then presents various intervention strategies that will help practitioners to identify social factors (for example, age, gender, education, and marriage) that provide clues into the potentially suicidal patient and establish an intervention strategy to address suicide based on the social environment.

Chapter 1: Durkheim’s Suicide in the 21st Century

Chapter 2: Fatalistic Suicide

Chapter 3: Anomic Suicide

Chapter 4: Egoistic Suicide

Chapter 5: Altruistic Suicide

Chapter 6: Assessment and Measurement

Chapter 7: Miscellaneous, Conclusion, and Summary

About the Author
Stephen M. Marson, PhD, received a BA from Ohio Dominican University, an MSW from The Ohio State University, and a PhD (in sociology) from North Carolina State University; he also obtained a minor in social work from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For decades, he has been intensely interested in combining sociological theory with gerontological social work practice and has published and presented numerous papers. In addition, he is the founder and editor of the Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics. After 40 years, he retired from his professorship at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke and is a professor emeritus.
"The reasoning and emotion that go into the ominous decision to commit suicide makes us ponder. To help us understand this process, Stephen Marson presents poignant and provoking observations that do not fit neatly into the myths of suicide, aging, and life satisfaction. He provides the stimulus for professionals and laypeople to reexamine practice strategies and ethical underpinnings when working with aging adults."

Daniel Pollack, JD, MSSA, MSW
Professor, School of Social Work
Yeshiva University, New York


"This is a novel modern development of classic theory - the text provides a set of applied social work and geriatric care practices to prevent suicide among elders; practices that are informed by experience, modern geriatric and social work practices and classical theory. Marson’s development of Durkheim’s theory provides for both identification of suicidal risk and theoretically informed intervention. The seemingly, patently individual act of suicide is a result of social phenomena - and the burgeoning geriatric population is at risk. This text provides theoretically informed methods for detection and prevention of suicide. A very well researched book perfect for social work, sociological theory, and gerontology courses; human services practitioners; and fans of Durkheim."

J. Porter Lillis, PhD
Assistant Chair and Gerontology Director
Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice
University of North Carolina at Pembroke


"Deconstructing the taboo that is suicide requires the willingness to understand, and exploration of the human psyche. Marson’s book explores practice issues that practitioners may encounter when working with elders. This easy-to-read book provides considerations when identifying and preventing suicide in a population struggling with social and physical changes. Marson highlights interventions framed by Durkheim’s suicide theory to guide readers. Case studies detail diverse life experiences that lead up to the disconsolate decision to end one’s own life. An insightful read for health care workers and human services practitioners working with this vulnerable, yet dynamic group."

Mara Hunt RN-BSN, MSW
Oncology Nurse, FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital
Pinehurst, NC


"In this authoritative work, Marson tackles the silent epidemic of suicide among America’s older adults. With readable and engaging prose he explicates Durkheim’s theory of suicide, demonstrating how its application can inform both assessment and intervention with this vulnerable population. Case studies from his practice offer rich illustrations of key principles. By raising awareness and deepening our understanding of late-life suicide, this book will be valuable for anyone who works with or cares for older adults."

Amanda Barusch, PhD
Professor Emeritus
Department of Sociology, Gender & Social Work
University of Otago, New Zealand
Elder Suicide was reviewed by Brandi Jean Felderhoff for the journal Social Work.

In the United States suicide rates among the top 10 leading causes of death, beginning at the 10- to 14-year age range, and remaining in the top 10, through to the oldest old. It is no secret among practitioners and providers working with the elderly that elder suicide is not an infrequent occurrence, especially among men over the age of 65. In the United States, this population subgroup has a suicide completion rate of 31 per 100,000, which is the highest completion rate of any age- or gender-related cohort. What is even more concerning about this population is that they tend to show fewer, if any, “risk factors” or warning signs, and generally complete suicide on their first attempt. In his book, Elder Suicide: Durkheim’s Vision, Stephen M. Marson provides a clear depiction of Durkheim’s theory through recounting social histories to identify circumstances that create suicide potential. Marson is a professor emeritus from the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He spent over 40 years in gerontological social work and has focused on studying sociological theories for suicide intervention of elderly clients.

Read the full review. Available to subscribers of Social Work.
Earn 4.5 CEUs for reading this title! For more information, visit the Social Work Online CE Institute.