YEARLY, on September 10, international organisations commemorate the World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), which promotes global awareness about suicide prevention.
Since 2003, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and various stakeholders have successively helped organise the day.
According to research, almost 3 000 people commit suicide daily. And about one million lives are lost to suicide each year.
Globally, suicide is the 13th leading cause of death. Every 40 seconds, one person commits suicide.
IASP president Brian Mishara believes that “more people kill themselves than die in all wars, terrorist acts and interpersonal violence combined”.
Apparently, suicide is socially gendered.
Three male suicides are averagely reported for every one female case.
However, females are more likely to attempt suicide. Suicide attempts are probably two-three times higher for females than in males.
Suicide is the most common cause of death for people aged between 15 and 24, according to a research paper written by Lorel in 2009.
According to the World Health Organisation, “there are 20 people who have a suicide attempt for every one that is fatal, at a rate of approximately one suicide in every three seconds”.
French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, scholarly established the view that suicide is apparently ubiquitous.
According to Durkheim, suicide is neither an individual nor a personal act. But, it is largely due to some supernatural powers which are beyond the control of an individual.
Durkheimian Sociology opined that suicide is a result of social disorganisation or lack of social integration.
The classical sociologist critically classified four different types of suicide. These are: egoistic, altruistic, anomic and fatalistic suicide.
According to Durkheim, “when a man becomes socially isolated, or feels that he has no space in the society, he destroys himself”.
Egoistic suicide reflects a prolonged sense of not belonging. These individuals primarily lack altruistic feelings and are usually divorced from the mainstream society.
Typically, this type of suicide is usually prevalent in self-centred people – egocentric individuals.
Durkheim found out that suicide occurred more often among unmarried people, especially unmarried men, whom he found had less to bind and connect them to stable social norms and goals.
Altruistic is usually characterised by a sense of being overwhelmed by a group’s goals and beliefs.
It occurs in societies with high integration, where individual needs are seen as less important than those of society as a whole.
Nevertheless, Durkheim stated that there would be little reason for people to commit suicide in an altruistic society.
But an individual can potentially kill himself on behalf of society such as in military service.
Durkheim opined that “this is a state of moral disorder where people do not know the limits on their desires and are constantly in state of disappointment”.
This type of suicide is commonly due to some breakdown of social equilibrium. These include suicide after bankruptcy or, surprisingly, after winning a lottery.
In fact, anomic suicide takes place in a situation which has cropped up suddenly.
Fatalistic suicide usually occurs when a person is excessively regulated. In some cases, a servant can commit suicide due to over-regulation by the master. And a barren woman can similarly become suicidal due to negative societal pressure.
Theoretically, Durkheim’s theory of suicide has richly contributed to the sociological understanding of suicide.
However, biological and personal factors have increasingly become more important in analysing suicidal behaviours.
Researchers believe that both depression and suicidal behaviour can be biologically linked to decreased serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a naturally occurring chemical substance that transmits signals between nerve cells – neurones – throughout the body.
Physiologically, low levels of a serotonin metabolite – 5-HIAA – have been scientifically detected in the cerebro-spinal fluid of some suicide victims.
Cerebrospinal fluid is the liquid around the brain and spinal cord.
Scientists have rigorously observed that serotonin receptors in the brain can potentially increase their activity in persons who have major depression and suicidal behaviours.
Critically, this principally explains why medications that desensitise, or down-regulate these receptors have been found to effectively treat depression.
Encouragingly, studies are currently underway to examine how medications such as Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can reduce suicidal behaviour.
Suicide is a serious problem and any suicide threat or attempt must be taken seriously.
Signs of suicide include persistently talking about death and suicide, feeling hopelessness, withdrawal from friends and family, extreme mood swings, giving away possessions and repeatedly saying good bye to family and friends.
Unsurprisingly, people who are suicidal have temporary problems that can be possibly solved by getting the necessary help.
Henceforth, family and friends must not discriminately discount the feelings of suicidal individuals. They must seriously consider the signs of depression and suicidal behaviour.
And more importantly, suicidal behaviour must be viewed as a cry for help. As such, people who are in danger of committing suicide must not be left alone.
Equally, family and friends must be good listeners. And suicidal individuals must be convincingly encouraged to seek professional help.
Ultimately, remember, secrets can kill. Though a suicidal person can ask for secrecy, help prevent suicide by unequivocally breaking the promise.
As people grapple with the Covid-19-induced socio-economic challenges, it is increasingly becoming very important to talk about suicide and depression.
Everisto Mapfidze is registered general nurse who holds a Bsc Honours in Sociology (UZ). For feedback: [email protected]