The labyrinthine alleys of suicide

Published: May 24, 2018 21:24:06 | Updated: May 25, 2018 21:00:37


Suicide has been a socio-psychological enigma since the early phase of history. Besides whipping up sadness, the act also draws condemnation on the part of the majority in society. But suicide is a highly complex phenomenon. It cannot be addressed so sweepingly. Along with the notes of disapproval, the suicide of an otherwise mundanely disposed and successful person evokes reflective thoughts in many.

Those close to the person taking his or her own life are often showered with sympathy and compassion. In the present times, spanning the whole 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st, suicide emerged a major social issue. It merits in-depth analyses.

When the police department of a developing country like Bangladesh discloses a troubling statistics on its suicide scenario, the issue assumes the proportions of a national malaise. In the 21st century suicide is a byword for the fallout of stressful and ennui-filled modern life in the developed world. In comparison, this country is still stuck in its basically agrarian roots.

Thus when the Bangladesh Police presents an alarming picture of the country's suicide trends, a spell of distress and unease grips many. Outwardly, it is not much different from many other countries. The police report puts the number of suicide deaths in the country in 2017 at over 11,000 people. Elaborating, it says at least 30 people have killed themselves a day in that year. The rate of these unnatural deaths in the country has clearly taken a troubling turn.

As the report details, the number of deaths caused by suicide in 2016 was 10,600. In 2015 it was 10,500, while 10,200 people killed themselves in 2014. The yearly increase in suicide deaths carries potential elements to make people feel disconcerted. Bangladesh is still grouped among the world's poorer countries. Poverty and desperate efforts to eke out a living still being a stark reality, the vices of affluence have yet to emerge with menacing force in the country. People are engaged in nonstop struggles for survival. Thoughts of committing suicide among this segment of population cannot be expected to gain wide currency here. But suicides are on the increase.

A widespread notion held by many has an explanation for it. According to them, economic factors ranging from poverty to chronic social marginalisation drive a lot of people to commit suicide. Others disagree, citing the case for the scale of poverty alleviation in the country in the recent couple of decades. As they believe, suicides prompted by poverty, bankruptcy etc are isolated incidents. They actually echo the larger sections of experts dealing with the country's complex social matrix. The latter home in on the issues exogenous to the local realities.

These are beyond the confines of our long-familiar humble economic scenario. If Bangladesh is seen being fitted into this observation, it finds itself alongside the nations where suicides are a social malady. By being on the bandwagon of the latest global trends, including the negative ones, the country cannot avoid sharing the new-age realities. The World Health Organisation (WHO) appears to have reached the crux of the matter. In its 2015 report on the global incidence of suicide, it observes at least one person is committing suicide every 40 seconds across the world. Its finding places Bangladesh among the world's 10 most suicide-prone countries. The information corroborates the 2017 report published by Bangladesh Police with the number of people killing themselves daily in the country coming to around 30.

In the appraisal of the number of suicide cases, poverty or economic factors do not always hold water. According to the data of WHO, people in the age bracket of 15-29 years are the most vulnerable to committing suicide in Bangladesh. Its finding discovers women as being more inclined towards self-destruction. Of late, this terrible behavioural aberration has started afflicting children as well. According to a study conducted by a child rights forum in Bangladesh in 2017, at least 76 children committed suicide in the country until May that year. The figure was placed at 534 for the period of 2013-2016.

With mainly the youths emerging as being suicide-prone in a fast changing society, experts feel compelled to look at the overseas developed nations for spotting the reasons behind the rising incidents of self-killing. Thus inadequate socialisation comes to the fore. A section of senior academics working on suicide focuses on some other causes.

They are related to the difficulty communicating, especially on the part of the youths. It results in depression, and a tendency to live isolated and detached lives. This state is also accompanied by a pervasive boredom. At this point, the ills of the technology-dominant times come up. This situation has begun unfolding in the later part of the 20th century. With the onset of the digital era, social disconnection coupled with the fraying of the community bonds started defining life in both rich and poorer nations. Due to its being one aspiring for a better socio-economic global status, Bangladesh could not remain impervious to the waves brewed in the mind-boggling changes in technology, both digital and traditional. As a corollary, extreme forms of alienation leading to depression, and finally suicide, have plagued nations. Bangladesh is no exception.

The realities of developing and less developed countries differ from that in the better faring nations. The incident of a teenage girl committing suicide on being sexually harassed or after failing in exams is common in Bangladesh. So is a young male taking his life upon being spurned by his girl friend. Middle-aged men committing suicide due to marital complications and career failures are also nearly unique to Bangladesh. With their social realities taking shape on a different track, suicides in developed societies are caused mainly by reasons starkly different from that in the less advanced countries. Depression caused by self-centred lives plays a critical role in pushing the people in the apparently fulfilled societies towards choosing death. At the same time, it is humiliation and the feeling of being neglected, at times tinged with depression, which pulls the string of destruction in the steadily developing societies.

As part of a general pattern, the suicide drives vary widely. With many it is a fierce and uncontrollable impulse that prepares the ground for suicidal deaths. They appear to be reaching the nadir of their hopelessness and gloom. They choose death not as a way out or means to attain freedom from their self-spun woes. As have been observed by psychiatrists, the suicidal mind remains filled with scores of contradictory thoughts. Few suicide notes leave a distinct picture of their mind that remained in shape prior to their act of self-annihilation.

From psychiatry's point of view the reasons people choose the path of suicide vary widely. They are directly related to situations prevailing at the moment of one's committing of suicide and those creating grounds for it. It needs enormous courage for one to kill oneself. Quite often nausea, anger, shame and a sense of defeat or humiliation contribute to the creation of a labyrinthine psychology in the people about to end their lives. Some grow a kind of obsession with suicide. On being failed to succeed once, they continue to make attempts until they can get away with it.

An influential school in psychiatry blames genetic commands for many suicides and suicide attempts. True, a number of people take the decision to take their lives on the spur of the moment. They do not want to waste time on it. Timely interventions are occasionally found helping many dissuade from taking the final decision. The abnormal suicidal mind can also be coaxed into becoming cool for the time being. Thanks to these facts, the counselling continues to be in wide practice in today's world. However, a number of experts detect the genetic agents that remain active even in the cases of impulse-driven suicides.

People in general are not interested in engaging in serious discourses on suicide. In the prevailing social system self-killing is unacceptable, and thus abominable. In almost all countries, suicide attempts are a criminal offence. The message behind the legal provision is discouraging people from destroying themselves. On the contrary, they are encouraged to celebrate life. To a civilised state, all its citizens are national assets. It cannot allow people to deprive the nation of the contributions which are at their disposal. It is an irony that side by side with the widespread social disapproval of suicide, there are people who, in some way, speak in its favour. They are said to be adherents of certain schools propounded by philosophers like Schopenhauer, Nietzsche et al. But laymen's worlds are far from intellectual exercises. The philosophy of cultural pessimism has little appeal for them. They fully share the universal rejection of the practice of letting oneself be lost in the abyss of death. When an otherwise healthy man kills himself, the death is termed suicide. But when a terminally ill nonagenarian or centenarian allows doctors to disconnect his life-support, it is not a case of conventional suicide. It is a case of 'assisted suicide' or 'mercy killing'. In medical term it is euthanasia. In the 21st century, suicide deaths overlap the borders of socio-economic, psychological and, lately, medical domains.

shihabskr@ymail.com

 

 

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