Psychache in context: States' spending for public welfare and their suicide rates

Shirley L. Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This analysis draws together the concept of psychache that describes the psychological pain associated with suicide and Durkheim's social integration theory in analyzing the relationship between states' spending for public welfare and their suicide rates over a 30-year period, from 1960, 1970, 1980, 1985, and 1990. Given that the threshold for enduring psychological pain varies from person to person, the questions were: Does suicide also vary with social context and has this changed over time? The answer to both questions was yes. Whereas the prevalence of divorce in combination with low population density and high rates of population change provided the context for interstate differences in suicide rates over the entire observational period and accounted for their increased variability in 1970 and 1980, this was not the case in 1985 or 1990. In both 1985 and 1990, the two variables that were important in this regard were states' spending for public welfare and race. In 1990, not only were suicide rates higher in states that spent less for public welfare than in states that spent more, but states' spending for public welfare was the only variable that accounted for the widening of differences in states' suicide rates. Given the strong prevailing skepticism that government can help solve people's problems and widespread antagonism toward government social spending, these findings carry an important message.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-434
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Nervous and Mental Disease
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1995


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