Suicide – Are we failing each other as a society?

Suicide is a topic that while gaining more and more recognition in terms of the global concern over increasing numbers of people both young and old dying, the reasons for people choosing to die remains baffling. It is estimated that 800,000 to over one million people die by suicide somewhere in the world each year (depending on which stats you read). One person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. The global suicide rate is 16 per 100,000 population. There has been an increase of 60% of suicide deaths in the past 45 years.

Focusing for a moment only on children and youth, suicide is the second biggest killer of young people worldwide. It is the same for Canada, the USA and is one of the leading causes of death in the UK for people 10 to 34 years old, with the numbers rising. Overall, suicide rates are the highest in Europe, followed by South East Asia, the Western Pacific (includes Australia and New Zealand) and the Americas. Probably, though this could be a stretch – I’m going to assume that most people don’t think about suicide unless they’ve been touched by it.

I grew up with a parent who was suicidal. Even though I’d been aware of it since I was young, I didn’t pay much attention to suicide (who was dying or why) in my adult years. My parent recovered and I just assumed that because of the history in my family, we were safe. No one – especially not one of my children – would choose to die by suicide given the trauma of my early years. But my daughter did, which forced me to become immersed in and learn as much as I could about suicide and the trauma and chaos left in its wake for the survivors. I notice when something about suicide makes the news and when I come across a young person’s voice brave enough to share their story about why they wanted to die (I’ve seen some videos online). But it’s rare to gain access into the mind of someone who has died or know for certain whether they could have been saved. Many people are left guessing.

Sadly, for the estimated 160,000 children and youth (ages 10 to 25 years) that die by suicide yearly, we’ll never know their story. We’ll never have the chance to discover what drove them to choose suicide, so that we can learn from our mistakes and try to fix a system that isn’t working. That system being society.

Are we the problem?

In a very general sense, is it how we treat each other? How much we do or don’t care for others beyond satisfying our own immediate needs? Is it to do with how present and aware we are or want to be for ourselves and others? Is it the disconnect we feel because of the device-driven world we live in? Is it the too heavy a reliance on social media as the measure for one’s value and self-worth? Are we looking for worthiness in all the wrong places and spreading this false sense of importance and value to our kids and each other where we simply can’t measure up?

Are we in a crisis that we don’t understand? Should we be alarmed? Do we care?

In recent information I’ve gathered online, mental health agencies state no one has the answers. Despite some countries having a suicide prevention framework and state this has helped to prevent suicide, I’m not sure given that suicide rates increased by 60% in the last four decades and are on the rise. Are we asking the right questions to try and resolve this global epidemic?

One of the big questions we need to answer is who’s responsible for suicide. Is it the family? The social media giants? The workplace? The individual? Though regarding children and youth, I’d have to say no. How could any child or young person be held responsible for such a decision before their brain is even finished developing?

Does the responsibility for suicide lie in the very fabric of a global society where we are completely failing each other as respectful, caring and compassionate individuals? Maybe.

Who is responsible?

In a first of its kind case of corporate responsibility against France’s telecoms operator Orange (formerly known as France Télécom), seven senior executives have been accused of “moral harassment” that led to a wave of employee suicides in the 2000s . The prosecution included 19 suicides and 20 others claiming to be victims of managerial abuse, stemming from the management’s “out the door or window” policy to get rid of employees whose jobs were protected. (The firm was transitioning from state to private.) From the management’s perspective, employees needed to be “encouraged” to leave on their own. And some of them did.

The prosecution has asked for the maximum sentence of a fine of €75,000 for France Télécom and one year’s imprisonment for the three top former executives. The verdict, which according to the article is expected on December 20th, could have “enormous implications for the future conduct of major businesses”. Could it be the watershed case where direct responsibility for a suicide can be assigned? Whether from the moral harassment by managers of employees or something else?

It is critical that we all become aware of and take responsibility for the care and treatment of others. You never know when or if you will become in need yourself or have a family member at risk of suicide. For every single suicide, twenty more people are attempting it somewhere in the world.

Suicide facts

There are 10 deaths per day in Canada and approximately 123 in the USA or one death every 12 minutes. It’s worth repeating that worldwide, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. It’s also interesting that as of 2016 and according to the World Health Organization data, only three Caribbean islands reported zero suicides (they must be doing something right). Suicide statistics by country can be found here.

On a personal level

It’s hard not to find someone who hasn’t been touched directly by suicide or knows someone who hasn’t. Given that according to Canadian government statistics 7 to 10 people are profoundly affected by just one suicide, it’s additionally tragic when you consider how many survivors of suicide become just as vulnerable to the same risks as their loved ones who died struggled with.

We need to start looking at the cause(s) for suicide (not just the reasons) in order to significantly reduce or put an end altogether to this global crisis. We’re all in this together.

Feature Photo by Alfaz Sayed on Unsplash (edited by Vonne Solís), Fade away by Gabriel on Unsplash, ? Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash (edited by Vonne Solís), Gavel Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash