East or West, Suicide is a Concern
By Carrie Sherman, The College Letter, liberal arts newsletter
February 28, 2007
A suicide awareness poster on the subway in Taipei, Taiwan, is part of
the government’s public service advertising campaign Photo: Jim Tucker
The way people respond to suicide differs across time, cultures, and individuals.
James Tucker, associate professor of sociology, studies legal and social
responses to suicide using both
historical data and interviews with relatives of people who
have committed suicide.
This past summer he gave several talks on this research in Taiwan and
traveled in Southeast Asia, making research connections with scholars in
Vietnam and Thailand. Tucker is also collaborating with a former graduate
student, who is exploring these questions in the UK. At UNH, he has two
undergraduate Justice Studies students enrolled in research internships
under his supervision.
“In the past, suicide and attempted suicide were crimes against
both God and the state. The corpses of people who killed themselves were
often punished—hanged in public view and then burned or tossed in
the woods or a river—and people who attempted suicide were beaten,
imprisoned, and even executed in some cases,” notes Tucker.
In Asia, suicide has traditionally been a taboo subject, but Tucker found
is starting to change in some places: “In Taiwan, suicide is slowly
becoming a more acceptable topic to discuss in public. Just recently, for
example, the government placed several suicide awareness public service
advertisements in the subway system in Taipei, the capital city. One of
the ads features a photograph of a famous Taiwanese movie star encouraging
people who feel depressed to call a suicide hotline for help.”
In Vietnam, however, the government mostly ignores suicide. “Most
communist societies keep suicide underground. Nobody wants to talk about
it or admit that it happens,” explains Tucker.
By conducting a large-scale, cross-national interview study, Tucker’s
hope is that he will be able to see patterns of change within and across
Although his research is “basic” rather than “applied,” he
thinks the findings might be of interest
to people beyond the academic world: “My research should help us
better understand the aftermath of suicide and how it affects those left
behind. But I also hope that it will help, even if only indirectly, suicide
prevention efforts in the U.S. and elsewhere.”