The challenge of preventing suicides
According to WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds and it has also found that since the mid 20th century, suicide propensity has increased among the young, and has declined among older people.
It was the early 1960s when suicide was an alien concept to the people of the Micronesian islands. Suddenly, a 17-year-old boy committed suicide, because his father forced him out of his home. Then it began to rise steeply and dramatically until by the end of the 1980s, there was more suicide per capita in Micronesia than anywhere else in the world. Young boys started committing suicide for trifling issues corresponding with previous suicides, and it became almost a ritual of the adolescent.
In 2018, the number of suicides among students in Bangladesh was the same in comparison to the three-year period from 2015 to 2017. As the frequency of these incidents grew, one can presume their link with a phenomenon called “cluster suicide,” where one event can trigger a number of suicides, as explained by Dr Madelyn Gould, a psychiatric epidemiologist at Columbia University. Before going further with the thought of whether suicides could be contagious, it’s crucial to delve into the mental state of youth who turn to suicide.
It’s hard to delineate specific causes of suicide. Three professors from Harvard University conducted a study on rising suicide among youth and exposed two basic facts behind it. First, the variable feeling of high and low moments which is widespread among youth. Secondly, non-existent financial resources to influence others, as the youth are at the point of life where their consumption exceeds their net income.
They discussed four basic theories of suicide which are at the crux of youth suicide.
Most suicide attempts are made to take action on the part of the youth to resolve conflicts within themselves, with parents, or others. As they possess little economic and familial power, they consider self-injury as a powerful act to signal others, to let others know they are unhappy with their life, and teach a lesson to those who are the cause of depression.
Secondly, suicide and depression are correlated with each other, and more than 90% of suicides occur due to the victim suffering from depression. Thirdly, it is not surprising that adolescents are influenced by their peer groups.
Finally, there is instrumentalist theory -- if the means to do so are available at the right time, suicides have higher probability to occur. For example, availability of pesticides correlates with a higher suicide rate in the specific rural area.
But does suicide instigate others? Sociologist Emil Durkheim argued that suicides are imitative, particularly among young people. Highly publicized suicides can provoke others, often by similar means by those people who are already vulnerable and considering their options.
Social media today spreads suicide news swiftly to many. Mental illness is not infectious, but solid evidence suggests that suicide is still communicable to others. An analysis suggests that at least 5% of youth suicides are influenced by contagion, and suicide “outbreaks” or “clusters” are real phenomena where one death can set off others.
In developing countries, the suicide rate is becoming higher as a result of poor mental health conditions. According to WHO, approximately 15 million people are suffering from various mental illnesses in Bangladesh.
While the country is bogged down with multiple issues like unemployment, malnourishment, and other grave socio-economic problems, mental health is considered a secondary issue. Biological harm or injury leaves us in a desperate condition, while psychological harm remains a non-issue year after year.
A person’s family is the biggest source of support, and must play a major role in preventing suicidal attitudes.
Suicides pose a threat to our overall wellbeing as a country. Health is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, but a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing, and sound mental health of citizens can boost both national productivity and prosperity.
People do not merely want to be loved, they want to be accepted and understood. It is our obligation to accomplish this duty towards our loved ones.
Md Eleus Mia is a student of social science at the University of Dhaka.