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August 4, 2010 | Opinions

Why Do People Commit Suicide?

Regrettably and very upsetting too, suicide is gradually creeping into our society. The evidence? In the space of one week, three people including a nine year old class two pupil were reported to have committed suicide.

These and others reported in the past are cases that the media chanced upon. There could be many more people taking their own lives for one reason or the other that we do not hear of. Are lives' circumstances precipitating suicide in our society today?

Assuming extreme stress is pushing individuals to end their lives, does it mean that suicidal thoughts are so active that they can carry so much emotional power?

The suicide stories that appeared in our media over the last couple of weeks reminded me of a high profile suicide case that the British media reported extensively on last year when the world economic mess hit its peak.

One of Britain's high profile multi-millionaires killed his wife and only daughter, went downstairs to set their plush Victorian mansion on fire and then came upstairs to kill himself.

The fire service arrived on time to retrieve the CCTV camera in the house which the millionaire failed to switch off before the multiple crimes.

In the course of the investigations, it was discovered that the man was in deep financial crises. His businesses had gone under and his property was going to be re-possessed.

He had apparently kept things secret­ from his wife and could not bear to see their mansion taken over. The fear of losing his profligate lifestyle and the humiliation that was to come with it led him to end it for himself and his family.

Comparing that incident to the recent cases of suicide in our country, it is clear that the tendency to take one's life is there in children as well as adults.

The rich could be prone to it and so is the ordinary person. So what is that still small voice that commands and drives young and old, men and women, rich and not so rich to take their own lives, sometimes without any warning to the people around them, family and friends?

Over the last week-end, I had a chat with Dr J. B. Asare, a Psychiatrist and owner of the Peace Be Clinic at Ashale Botwe, a suburb of Accra, and a part time Consultant at the 37 Military Hospital to help me understand the world of people who are prone to taking their own lives. A very disturbing trend.

According to him, many a time, the people who commit suicide suffer from severe depression where there is prolonged circumstance of extreme stress, emotional upset, abuse, poverty, neglect, poor health, especially where there is no apparent hope of change or improvement.

All these can cause depression and suicidal thoughts in some people. Explaining his point further, Dr Asare said that in certain cases, one would find that there is a genetic predisposition where suicidal tendencies run through a family. In cases of that nature, one would find members of that family taking their own lives at some stage.

In the case of people suffering from severe depression, theirs is a world where guilt has engulfed them. They feel guilty for every wrong they have done and so think that ending it for them would be the easy way out. Such people do not love themselves and so they think people do not love them.

They easily get upset and would cry unnecessarily. They become withdrawn, they do not eat neither are they able to sleep. They will lose weight as a result. Often they would compare living and dying and conclude dying is the best way out.

Experts advise that if you have a member of your family going down that lane, you probably would need to get him to seek help from a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a social worker.

Probing further from Dr Asare, I discovered that social upsets such as the death of a dear one, marital or relationship issues, failures such as in school or examinations, loss of a job, honour and respect can all drive a predisposed person to take his own life.

Other precipitating factors include medical conditions, particularly in cases of impotency, sudden fatal illness, incurable diseases and chronic pain. These can cause extreme depression that sometimes drives suicidal tendencies.

But how common is suicide? Though it may not be that common in our country and we do not seem to have the statistics anyway, elsewhere in America for example, where the statistics are available, an official data puts it that annually about 31,000 cases of suicide is recorded.

That works out to 83.7 cases per day. There is a suicide every 17 minutes. One older person engages in the act every 92 minutes while an average of one young person kill themselves every 125 minutes.

Suicide in fact is ranked the eighth highest cause of death in the United States of America. In Ghana, though we may not be anywhere near the statistics of the US, in Dr Asare's opinion, there is every reason to begin to worry about the tendency.

According to the expert Psychiatrist, we are gradually losing the closeness and warmth that used to exist in our communities.

In the past, there was more altruism. People sacrificed for each other. Neighbours did not need to be relations to be concerned about each other even to the extent that a neighbour could discipline his colleague's child if he found him or her misbehaving in the community.

Today, if you dare do that, Child Rights Activists would chew you alive.

Our social system is collapsing and extended family systems have broken down as a result of that people have become individualistic. In the midst of all that, poverty is high. The least trigger may send people to the extremes with nobody to confide in.???

As for the trend regarding which group of persons are most likely to take their own lives, Dr Asare said the tendency is more profound in men than in women.

This fact is collaborated by the available US statistics where the suicide rate in men is four times higher than in women.

According to Dr Asare, the aggressive and impulsive nature of men means that they are not able to accommodate disgrace or humiliation. They cannot keep to emotions. He drew an analogy between a widower and a widow.

When men lose their wives, they become helpless and can easily get depressed if they do not quickly find a woman to fill the void. Widows on the other hand are comparatively able to stand the loss better and adapt much faster.

Whether it is happening to a man or to a woman, the young or the old, is there really any help in sight socially and medically for those who are prone to extreme depression and therefore suicidal tendencies? When I put the question to Dr Asare, he answered in the affirmative saying there is plenty of hope available for people who are in the state of severe depression.

The immediate thing is to get them into the sleeping routine and also to eat properly. Once they are able to sleep and relax, they begin to listen when spoken to.

If it is discovered that the patient's problem is biological depression, it means that they are lacking a certain chemical in the brain in which case the patient is given anti-depressants as the next stage of treatment.

However, if the genesis of the problem is more of a social issue, the patient would need a lot of love and care from family and friends.

In a situation like that, the patient needs people around him all the time and getting him to do a lot of talking. Ultimately, the patient needs to be taken to see a psychiatrist or psychologist for expert treatment.

As a country, we do not have the experts to tackle cases of severe depression that may lead to suicide. Pathetically, we have less than 15 psychiatrists working across the country.

Perhaps the time has come for some emphasis to be placed on the training of psychiatrist to adequately deal with the problems of depression because it is real.

Stress is all around us. It is at home, follows us to work, on our roads, at our hospitals, in public sector offices, and in conducting simple businesses.

We need more experts to take care of depression and more especially severe depression. The danger is that in our layman's view, we may be looking at depression and dismissing it as something else.

Yet all it may require is an expert advice and abundant love and care. There is every reason to keep an eye on suicide. One day, it may get out of hand and the experts to deal with them may not be there. Once bitten, twice shy.

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