The In PsyDA Perspective Suicide, the Economy and ‘Gros pwel’

This week’ it is prudent to examine and attempt comprehension of the fatal self-harming acts of suicide.

Globally, suicide ranks among the three leading causes of death among persons aged 15–44 with an estimated 900,000 people having committed suicide.When contextualised, that figure represents one death every 40 seconds (WHO, August 2012).

Within the past two years, the Saint Lucian population has been besieged by reports of completed and attempted suicide, the latter of which is grossly underreported. Simultaneously, the state of the Saint Lucian economy has propelled increased unemployment with financial challenges in all sectors. These challenges appear to be eroding the already tenuous fabric of psychological stability among the populace.

Mental health challenges are inescapable consequences of financial crises which epitomize chronic societal stress. At both a personal and social level, the impact of such a crisis is grave with increased unemployment rates, economic challenges, lowered living standards and income inequalities, all of which produce augmented levels of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, addiction relapses, suicidality (intention and attempt) and suicide. ‘Societal depression’ gradually occurs as these maladaptive and dysfunctional responses to dire economic conditions become so severe that they permeate all sectors of society. This canopy of depression connotes national inertia, apathy and feelings of helplessness among groups in society.

The correlation between suicide and the economic climate of any society has been widely documented. In 2012, the British Medical Journal published the findings of a study conducted in the UK which highlighted the link between the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent increase in suicides. According to that study, English regions with the largest rises in unemployment reported the largest increases in suicides, particularly among men. A similar study, published in 2013, was conducted in selected European countries and America using information garnered from the WHO’s mortality database. Results indicated that suicide rates increased mainly among the male population. It was found that “Rises in suicide rates among European men were highest in those aged 15-24, while in American countries, men aged 45-64 showed the largest increase. Rises in national suicide rates in men seemed to be associated with the magnitude of increases in unemployment.” These studies echo in part many facets of the St. Lucian population.

A plethora of studies has been conducted that illustrate the disparity between males and females with reference to completed and attempted suicide. Most have shown that although men are ‘more successful’ at suicide, female attempts are almost three times as frequent.

It is imperative to note here, that the termination of employment affects not only total income, but more importantly self regard and perceived social status. Additionally, many couples experience a dramatic deterioration in their relationships as a result of financial constraints. ‘Gros pwel’ (or Tabanca as it is called in some regional states) is defined as a state of depression with withdrawal symptoms, if a loved one is rejected. It engenders so much excessive worry about unrequited love that the individual refuses to eat and/or sleep. Also referred to as ‘lovesickness’, the symptoms associated with ‘gros pwel’ mirror those of the clinical condition, depression. The distinction, however, is in the cause or precipitating factor of the condition. In other words, depression becomes a ‘gros pwel’ only when it involves the exit of one partner.

Within the Caribbean Diaspora in particular, one of the fundamental pillars of the male identity is that of provision. Therefore, when a reduced or absent income renders the man incapable of functioning in the role in which he was seemingly designed, and problems occur in the relationship, ‘gros pwel’ is common. The severity of this condition is compounded when the man’s partner decides to exit the relationship, or enter into another simultaneous relationship. Note though, that in many cases, it is the man’s perception of how he is viewed by others coupled with his self-deprecating thoughts that contribute to his feelings of helplessness and suicidality. Notwithstanding the current financial dilemma in Saint Lucia, the region and the international community, it is imperative that as a nation we guard against societal depression and national inertia. Personal and societal challenges are to be anticipated during periods of economic strain and the domino effect is clear: global financial crises produce economic challenges regionally and at a national level. Lower incomes and high unemployment affect quality of life and give rise to significant problems in relationships. Additionally, the nexus between suicide and depression is undeniable given the psychological characteristics of helplessness, hopelessness, guilt and despair that underpin the two. However, human beings instinctively seek the preservation of life and will therefore reflexively cling to a mustard seed of hope. A society’s proclivity for resilience can only be affirmed via collective cognitive restructuring: optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, solidarity rather than isolation and encouragement rather than rejection.

Ginelle Nelson is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director of PsyDA Consultancy. PsyDA provides psychological services including individual and family psychotherapy, psychological evaluations and assessments, counselling and forensic consultations. Contact 727-1490 for appointments.

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