I was siting on the bed in my teenage room, leaning against the wall and studying something for school when my mother walked in and said 'Uncle is dead'. I remember her eyes wide open but I am not sure what I saw in them, was it sadness or confusion? My uncle has crashed into a tree in the car accident that was ruled as a probable suicide. I was too little to embrace it, neither could I understand my family's approach towards his death. I knew he had troubled life but I see now, I knew very little. Ever since however I grew up in the judgement of his life.
Suicide is not a new social phenomenon. Starting as early as 19th century with the death of Vincent Van Gogh, we could observe the snowball effect taking its toll throughout 20th (Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain) and carrying on to our times. The suicide of Robin Williams was a huge story a few year back. Since then we added a few names to the list such as Alexander McQueen, Chester Bennington and most recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain just to name the few. Together they add up to 800 000 people that die due to suicide every single year. The problem is real. And it deserves our undivided attention.
So why do people commit suicide? Could this question be ever answered? Trauma, social isolation, chronic pain, terminal illness, substance abuse are some of the possibilities, the most common cause however is that of mental disorder. My cousin was recently hosting a presentation at University of Gdansk regarding various forms of depression. I learned from it that depression is classified under mood (affective) disorders which symptoms occur periodically. International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (link here) describes it in terms of episodes varying in duration and intensity. The careful analysis of the above helps us to distinguish depression as a mental condition from sadness. There are some obvious differences but one - attention - pretty much sums it up. People who are sad usually tend to get better once we shift their attention from the unpleasant experience or negative thoughts to something else. A depressed person cannot be comforted without professional help as comforting attempts sometimes even end up in the worsening of condition (sense of misunderstanding).
There is of course a biological explanation for the cause of depression. It concerns dysfunctional neurotransmission of serotonin and noradrenalin caused by the abnormal activity of prefrontal cortex in our brain which distributes these chemicals and largely affects our mood. It is strictly related to the reward system responsible for desire, positive emotions, pleasure etc. The psychodynamic approach however, led by Freud, says that a depression is a result of our aggression being turned inward which in time may lead to very low self-esteem, self-blame or even suicide.
People who display suicidal ideation, thoughts or behavior usually:
We know that there is approximately 800,000 people drying from suicide every single year. The quality and availability of data however is still relatively poor. It is partially due to a stigma surrounding mental disorders and suicide in particular. The decision to commit a suicide is often impulsive, a flash flood of overwhelming emotions strongly linked to the feeling of hopelessness. It happens in the moments of crisis or breakdown leaving others with many unanswered questions. There is no room for an objective assessment of prons and cons (besides, can we even talk about objectivity here?). Contrary to what you may think, people who commit suicide by large lead more-than-average lives with the suicide rates high in middle-income countries along those with much lower standard of living. Can it be therefore concluded that we are simply SPOILED? That we create problems, that we are ungrateful? Of course not. We cannot judge only the outcomes, we must see the bigger picture of where we as the society stand and what it means to live in a given society nowadays.
In our fast-paced world it is extremely easy to miss someone's real call for help. I have good friends whom I talk to every 2 or 3 weeks. To observe suicidal behavior we need time. We need consistency. To recognize certain pattern, to notice the difference. The truth is most of us are not able to do that. It is also hard because the struggle is often inside of our heads and behind closed doors. But suicides ARE preventable. On the side bar to the right I listed some of the measures that we can take both, as a society and individually, to help relieve the global burden of suicides. They key however is, as always, to start really caring.
Everyday we are exposed to extreme social pressure and expectations of others. It does not mean you are weak if you fall for it. Most of us disagree with certain social behaviors or patterns but still feel the effect of not conforming to it on themselves. It is normal. The clue is to trust your instincts, believe in what you are doing and to accept that everybody has different path. If you stay true to your values, the world cannot harm you. Sometimes I feel, especially with women, that there is so much pressure not only to achieve things in general. No. They must be GREAT things. EXTRAORDINARY things. Ordinary is just too lame. Sometimes we do things in good faith, like calling for gender equality in developed countries and empowering women to become more visible, successful in many areas of life, not only at home with children. Ironically this also is a pressure. What about if, in that case, a woman truly fulfills herself with her family only. Is it always about an unlocked potential or maybe we are trying to dictate the worth of their choices? There is a very thin line between showing the way and expecting others to follow it not really leaving them much of a choice or even condemning for the choices they haven't made.
For me social pressure, expectations and the judgement of one's choices lie at the foundation of not only a suicidal problem but the level of unhappiness in the world. What do you think is the main reason for people to fall into depression or even take their own lives?
What can we do as a society?
What can YOU do?
Note to a self...
Desire less but desire strong! An interesting read that will get you thinking!
If you are interested in this topic you may want to scroll through WHO's first report on preventing suicide.
Fact and Figures