RECENTLY, on social media, former government minister Clement Rohee posited some misinformed views on suicide that need to be addressed.
Mr. Rohee stated, “It is difficult to detect in advance someone who is prone to suicide. Somehow, prior to committing the act, they manage to elude by means known only to them, their closest relatives and friends who are incapable of spotting any unusual behaviour on their part, before they take their own life.
Suicide ideation/suicidal mindset is really not difficult for anyone to be ‘incapable of spotting’ if that person knows what to look for. Actually, there are even clear and obvious warning signs that are easily discernible by anyone but are usually ignored or passed off as ‘jokes’. The media is replete with cases of loved ones saying they never took seriously, the strange behaviour of suicide victims or language clearly stating that they would take their lives, especially if such statements were made before. Thus, there is the need for citizens to be sensitised to the seriousness of these warning signs, and the need for immediate action.
Also, the implication that those who attempt suicide ‘elude’ those near and dear to them, is an awful attempt to indict people suffering from mental illnesses. The fact is that 90 per cent of the people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death, so they are not thinking clearly or logically. In effect, a normal person cannot apply his/her thinking process to label suicide victims or survivors. As one person who lived through depression posted on Facebook recently, “it is unquestionably THE most misunderstood illness and the one most judged and misjudged by “normal” people”.
Mr. Rohee wrote, “It’s like assuming a Jekyll and Hyde or split personality just for that particular period prior to committing the act. Their transformation is somewhat ‘magical’ if not amazing!”
Like any other illness, there is nothing ‘magical’ or amazing about the suicidal mindset or suicide ideation and it is certainly not indicative of any transformation. Thus to describe someone in such a state as assuming a Jekyll and Hyde or split personality is to victimise the victim. A suicidal mindset or suicide ideation is not reflective of a personality but a mental illness, especially depression or anxiety. As well, one who attempts or dies by suicide is not ‘committing an act’ and this is why experts and activists have been calling for the term ‘commit suicide’ to be eliminated and be replaced by ‘died by suicide’ or ‘a suicide victim’. Mr. Rohee must be aware of the negative connotations of the word commit but may not be aware that the person attempting or dying by suicide is a victim, not a perpetrator on any sort.
Added Mr. Rohee, “Thus the view that suicide is by its very nature a selfish act which brings in its wake pain and suffering to those left behind by the suicide [victim] who egregiously disrespected his or her own karma. Death by suicide considered ‘Atmahatya’ in Hindu circles becomes for the suicide [victim] the only pathway to self-emancipation from circumstances which he or she sees no other option. Hindus view suicide as bad karma. It is said that with suicide, the soul goes neither to heaven nor to hell but is left to wander restlessly, if not hauntingly amongst the living on earth.”
Since the person attempting or dying by suicide is a victim, the act cannot be selfish. As a suicide survivor stated in an article in Huffington Post, October 12, 2014, “Suicide is a decision made out of desperation, hopelessness, isolation and loneliness. The black hole that is clinical depression is all-consuming. Feeling like a burden to loved ones, feeling like there is no way out, feeling trapped and feeling isolated, are all common among people who suffer from depression.” Thus the act is not a ‘pathway to self-emancipation’ whatever that means. In fact, there is tremendous research relating to those who attempted suicide that makes it quite clear that victims never want to die.
Also this view of suicide as Atmahaty in the Hindu texts is responsible for many suicides in Hindu families going unreported, in a nation where there are hundreds of thousands of reported suicides each year –30 per cent of the estimated one million, annual suicides globally. Paradoxically, atmahatya, which means ‘murdering the soul or self’, is contradicted in the Gita, which emphasises that the soul cannot be harmed in any way whatever. Ironically, suicide has historically been endorsed in India through ‘sati’, whereby women were forced to jump into the funeral pyre of their dead husbands or collectively burn themselves during an invasion as exemplified in the recent Bollywood historical dram, Padmavati.
With respect to Mr. Rohee’s reference to community involvement in helping to address suicide and abuse, may we point out, that next year TCV plans to launch a lay-counsellor training programme. Trained to detect and act on suicide warning signs, emphatic communication and measures to help abuse victims or deal with abusive situations, lay counsellors/gatekeepers, in every community, can take proactive preventative actions. While the trainer is offered at no cost to TCV, we need to cover that person’s living expenses for one year, as well as the costs directly associated with the training programme. Towards this end we have launched a gofundme account at https://www.gofundme.com/lay-counsellor-training-programme. The link can also be accessed by logging on to our website, http://www.caribvoice.org, and clicking on the gofundme logo. We hope Mr. Rohee can find it possible to donate to this cause and to help promote it so we can be able to achieve the set goal.
Finally, as loved ones of suicide victims, as suicide survivors, as suicide prevention activists, and as clinical psychologists and counsellors, various members of The Caribbean Voice know through experience, the realities of suicide and so we beg all and sundry who want to write on or speak about suicide to not do so without getting the facts, without speaking with suicide survivors and without understanding how mental health issues affect the thinking process.