It is tragicomical at times, how we go out of our way to define the spade before our eyes as if it were something arcane, mysterious beyond human comprehension—therefore must be referred to as if indeed it fell into the realm of evidence of things of things not seen.
Confronted by the recent discombobulating spate of suicides, we’ve chosen to talk about the outrage only in terms vaguely clinical. This week one character with ice in his veins was on the radio revealing that suicide really is just another form of violence. You know, like rape or wife battering, or stoning stray mutts, still a national pastime. The only difference was that suicide is violence directed by an individual at himself. Doubtless, the nation will forever be grateful for such free erudition.
Another local expert chose to concentrate on location, location, location. In both cited instances the experts had carefully sidestepped the possible reasons citizens were destroying themselves in the prime of their time. You’d think some authority on the subject, either from one of our wellness centers or from the fitness clinic that Alvina Reynolds operates, would by now have enlightened the nation about the disturbing trend: how to recognize related deadly signals and what to do about them.
But then to have taken that route might’ve brought our UWI-trained specialists down roads where angels fear to tread: unfamiliar paths that could take them face-to-face with some of the reasons young Saint Lucians had for some time now been taking their own lives—and why in recent times the suicide rate has abruptly accelerated.
If there is a bright side to any of this, it is that suicide in Saint Lucia is no longer the laughing matter it once was. But just in case there are among us some who might conveniently dismiss my last assertion as typical hyperbole, that in truth no one in this Christian society where we all love our neighbor as we do ourselves would find humor in a fellow human being’s death, whether by divine design or by the victim’s own hand—after all, Saint Lucia is not Schadenfreude City!—I need only mention the restorative Gramoxone, until recently the suicide’s poison of choice.
There was a time when we automatically associated suicide, particularly involving teenagers, with unrequited love, while insisting that “no woman is worth dying for.” (A mindless declaration that speaks about women than about our innate misogyny.) The lunch table jokes about the suicide’s sexual inadequacies and the insatiable needs of his woman, imagined or otherwise, just naturally followed the revealing assessment.
We’re like that. I’m assured that particular attitude is directly related (as are most of our more disgusting proclivities) to our slave history.
As I say, much has been written about why people take their own lives, the main culprit being depression. And yes, the source of such insanity-producing depression might well be unrequited love. Incidentally, the English courts once referred to suicide—and still do, for all I know—as an act committed by an individual “when the balance of his mind was disturbed!”
This week, at least one of the TV analysts invited to address the latest two suicides suspected some form of mental disorder. It remains for me to say one does not have to be a psychologist or psychiatrist to know everyone occasionally feels down in the blues. But the experts advise that help be sought for depression that continues for more than two or three days.
What is usually characterized as “minor depression” they say, can blow up in no time at all into “major depressive disorders,” including psychotic depression accompanied by “some form of psychosis, such as having disturbing false beliefs or delusions, or hearing or seeing upsetting things others cannot hear or see.” (All right, all right, let’s just leave the politicians out of this for the time being, shall we?)
Interesting to note, researchers have found some types of depression tend to run in families. But it can also occur in people without family histories of depression. According to one report I read for the purposes of this piece, “scientists are studying certain genes that may make some people more prone to depression.”
I was taken aback by findings from genetics research that suggest “risk for depression results from the influence of several genes acting together with environmental or other factors. In addition, trauma, loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship or any stressful situation may trigger a depressive episode.”
It would appear several people, young individuals as well as elderly couples, left behind notes indicating they had taken their own lives for no other reason than they had found themselves unable to cope with the fallout from the world economic crisis.
The young, many with huge student loans to pay off, saw no future without a job, without a roof over their heads, without ambition, with only one way out of their predicament.
Older folk, many living off their meager pensions, had eaten up their life savings and lost their homes with their dignity. Unable anymore to pay medical bills, they came to see every day as more torture ahead. Their offspring were themselves in dire straits.
Many elderly couples shot themselves in the head at sites that they had once together enjoyed: public parks, beaches, even favorite coffee houses. Others, too broke to pay for warmth in the wintertime, had simply swallowed bottles of prescription pills, turned on the gas or set fire to their apartments, then settled in bed to die in their sleep.
More than a few desperate individuals had simply driven their vehicles off cliffs or into other vehicles at high speed. At least one former millionaire jumped from a bridge into rush-hour freeway traffic. And then there are the well-publicized cases of dismissed workers who went home, then returned to their former work places to murder close friends, former colleagues and supervisors.
Did the economic crisis trigger all of these deadly episodes? Many experts, in the United States, in Russia, Greece and the UK agree people had chosen death over a future on the street, homeless and without means.
Much of what occurs overseas eventually affects us here in parasitic Saint Lucia. If a donor country is forced to make cuts at home, it is more than likely its economic assistance to countries like ours will suffer related consequences,
Consider the plight of our aged and otherwise handicapped indigents forced to live without the remittances from overseas-based, now homeless and jobless relatives. To whom do old and deprived citizens turn in “oppressive, anti-worker, anti-poverty” Saint Lucia when they are too feeble or sick to take advantage of NICE, STEP and other programs, for the moment tax-funded? What can we expect when the funding that sustains such programs is not longer available?
All of the local bodies in a position to know, including the Employers Federation and the Chamber of Commerce, though for the most part silent for fear of victimization, real or imagined, agree that businesses are folding up almost weekly. Some remain open only because their owners decided to sell all they owned and invest their life savings in the promise of better days.
Just this week, the man handpicked to lead the government’s productivity drive, at a time when there is next to no incentive to produce, was
on the radio singing his own blues. Rayneau Gajadhar observed on Newsspin that the government’s pampering of the public sector was having only negative impact on the private sector.
He further confirmed the obvious: several businesspeople were unable to pay their employees. Then there were the workers who in their own best interests had chosen pay cuts over unemployment. Oh, but cockeyed optimist that clearly he is, Gajadhar closed on a high, if absolutely Alice in Wonderland, note: “Things will level eventually!”
Meanwhile, the man who had promised in his first and second Budget presentations since returning to office in 2011 that notwithstanding the SLHTA’s doomsayers, “tourism will be bouncy in a year-and-a-half”; that “the world economy will normalize in two years or so”; and who, during his campaign for office, had pledged to invest in the private sector $100 million for job creation, and for everyone else jobs-jobs-jobs, is these days hardly seen in Saint Lucia—despite his recent public understatement that he and Ralph Gonsalves “are very large men!”
Over the last several weeks Saint Lucia’s prime minister has been carrying on as if he were still the schoolteacher he had been before he tasted the heady addictive wines of small-island, accountable-to-no-one politics. He has been on lecture circuits in Jamaica, Trinidad and lord knows where else, more often than not delivering lines at once vexing and risible, not to say embarrassing.
Who would’ve have expected this particular prime minister, especially famous as he is for his outrageously undeliverable but ballsy “better days” promises to the ever impressionable dumb and naïve, to be so audacious as to dismiss his fellow-spendthrift Caribbean leaders as “prime ministers in denial?”
As if already his quoted words had not said enough about his thinking, the prime minister, conveniently borrowing from a recent address by the IMF’s Wendell Samuel, complained that public sector wages had “decoupled from wage levels in the public sector”—as if by magic. He also brazenly underscored “the uncomfortable truth that wage increases in Saint Lucia had not resulted in a commensurate increase in productivity.”
The more disturbing truth is that the prime minister had himself forced a 4 percent wage increase on both his insatiable public servants and the Saint Lucian taxpayer. Meanwhile, wages in the private sector, the ostensible engine of growth, continues to plummet, even as more and more workers lose their jobs.
Might all of that be among the main factors that had triggered the earlier cited, most disturbing local suicides? Will more be announced next
week? And since the youth are usually the hardest hit in times of crisis, is the government especially concerned about them? There is no evidence of that. More and more citizens may be heard complaining to talk-show hosts and to anyone else who will listen to their litany of woes. Does the unprecedented violent-crime surge have anything to do with the on-going economic nightmare?
It cannot have escaped the suffering public that only one section of Saint Lucia appears to be taking the brunt of the economic crisis. And it’s not the public servants and their fatted bosses. As I write, there is more bad news, again from the prime minister’s constituency. This time it’s about a mother of two who recently attempted suicide.
The Health Service Department official assigned to her case discovered the woman in a state of severe depression. Her husband wasn’t much help. While he holds down two jobs, his family benefits little from his endeavors. He has other commitments to other women.
The official delivers to the obviously disturbed young mother of two the usual lecture, including that her husband is hardly worth dying for. He obviously couldn’t care if she lives or dies. She ought to be more concerned about their helpless children.
Easy for the official to say. She leaves the young woman where she found her, in the same circumstances that had led to her suicide attempt, possibly not her first. Since then the official has been listening like never before to the nightly news and especially Timothy Poleon’s Newsspin. She knows it can only be a matter of time before her worst nightmare is confirmed.
A final word, not to be misconstrued: when desperate people turn suicidal, they choose different routes: sometimes, as earlier noted, they drive their speeding vehicles off cliffs or into other speeding vehicles. Some place themselves in positions that leave cops little alternative but to shoot them. It’s called “suicide by cop!” So commonplace is
the practice that a book has been written about it called “How to Stop Suicide by Cop!”
In the book, former FBI behavioral scientist Edward Davis defines “suicide by cop” as “an act motivated in whole or in part by the offender’s desire to commit suicide that results in a justifiable homicide by a law enforcement officer.”
The book also outlines “a simple protocol for who should investigate whether a shooting was a suicide by cop.”
And then there are those who, before they blow themselves away, open fire on packed movie houses, on fellow students in class—or on politicians delivering promises they may or may not plan to honor. All of that while, conceivably the balance of their minds was disturbed by the deceit of an unfaithful partner or by economic circumstances beyond their control!