In Summary
  • There is no African country among the top 20 suicidal countries in the world, though some experts include Côte d’Ivoire, South Africa and Zimbabwe in some cases.
  • It would be naïve to say that suicide happens only in broken families. I have known at least four painful cases of suicide that happened in what appeared to be functional families.
  • We may need to rediscover the family life-work balance that many have lost. Life is, as Einstein said, like cycling, to keep balance we need to keep moving. The challenge is finding out where to? And why?

Suicide is often the ugly result of deep depression and despair. When life seems to lose its meaning, there is nothing left to fight for.

Sadly, suicide has become a ‘way of life’ in a number of wealthy Western societies. Budapest, which is listed as the most beautiful capital in the world, had the highest suicide rate in the world in the second half of the 20th century.

This number has progressively decreased in the last decade, but the number of Hungarians who decide to take their own lives is still high in the list with more than 19 people out of 100,000 committing suicide.

Greenland, with a per capita income of $37,000, tops the list as the number one suicidal region in the world.

What depresses a human being so as to do away with the most precious gift of life? What triggers suicide? Experts point at health, hereditary factors, wealth, stress, environment, culture, religion and family.

SUICIDE AND THE FAMILY

It is important to note most experts point at the dramatic role the family plays as a trigger of suicidal thoughts.

For example, a group of US scientists concluded that “suicide can be an act of despair, anger, or escape from intolerable pain associated with prior bonding disturbances within the family system, interpersonal loss, and current perceived lack of social support.”
(https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21204597)

Scientists have also concluded that it is also in the family where the solution should be found. “Suicide is one of the 10 major causes of death in most countries. The family can play an important role in the prevention of suicide (by) the early detection and management of family members at risk.”

According to the Socioeconomic Circumpolar Database ArticStat, in Greenland, there were 1,428 unions in 2011. Sixty percent of those were de facto cohabitations. In 2011 too, there were 516 divorces.

These figures have been more or less constant since 1995, which means that only 340 marriages survive every year. It may be necessary to carry out serious research to find out what and when the resilience of families in Greenland broke apart.

It would be naïve to say that suicide only happens in broken families. But it also seems foolish to deny the essential, material, emotional and effective support any human being finds in the family.

GETTING TO THE ROOT CAUSE

Traditionally, Africa had a strong social support system. Family was, and still is in many ways, one of the most important and sacred realities in African life.

Life happened in and around the family. Birth, friends, schooling, advice, marriage, growth and death happened in the confines of the family.

In Africa’s communal life, no one was disposable. Each person had his or her own place and importance. The dignity of the group was made up of the dignity of each one. This is why elders, useless and burdensome as some might have perceived them, enjoyed a high degree of respect and even sacredness.

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