The epidemiology, pathology and toxicology of suicide

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Complete suicides and parasuicides are a major cause of death and disability in South Africa and the rest of the world. The epidemiology, pathology and toxicology of complete suicides were investigated in this study. All the complete suicide cases, which were presented to Salt River Medicolegal Laboratory over a period of one year (1 January 1997 - 31 December 1997), were analysed. The candidate personally conducted 148 of the alleged 180 suicide cases that presented in this time period (82%). The candidate did all the follow up investigations herself. The main findings were: 1. The male to female ratio was 5: 1. (131: 26) 2. Shooting and hanging were the most commonly used methods. 3. The racial distribution of violent deaths showed a high rate of suicides amongst the White population. 4. Suicides accounted for the Joss of young lives, the average age being 37,8 years. The mean age was 34 years. 5. Most victims committed suicide in and around their own homes. 6. The majority did not leave suicide notes. 7. Psychiatric disorders, poor health, arguments with close family members and friends, financial problems and long-standing relationship problems were the most common reasons for the suicides. 8. Suicides by prisoners accounted for 3,8% of the study (6 cases). 9. Two cases of double suicide (group suicide) were identified. 10. Five cases of homicide-suicide were identified in the study material. 11. One case of an attempted suicide by means of a high-speed motor vehicle accident, followed by the successful suicide by other means, was identified.