A maladjusted teenager is suffering from a crisis of confidence. The teenage years, normally a socially awkward period, are proving particularly challenging. She does not consider herself attractive, a perception that those around her confirm. She has few friends. Those whom she considers special exploit her; often in unspeakable ways. She is not fooled. She plays along because the solace of fellowship, even when rooted in deceit, provides a reprieve from an otherwise utterly dreary existence. Her self-image is but a brittle reflection of the opinions of others. Her face painted as by an untalented graffiti artist, she performs for the gallery, doing and saying the vilest things solely for the applause. Her audience considers her a clown. She alone knows how often she weeps. With every passing day an unspoken and unacknowledged sadness within her grows until it reaches a crescendo of emotional oblivion. She begins to persuade herself that nothing could possibly be worse than the unceasing pain that is her existence.
A young man devotes himself to a particular woman. He holds true to his promise to love, honour, and protect. She is the centre of his universe; the foundation upon which is built all that he is and hopes to be. He carries her picture in his wallet to proudly display at every opportunity and to keep him inspired. Then suddenly it hits him: his devotion is unrequited. He soldiers on regardless. Delusion abhors clarity; his undying love provides the veil. But while what remains unsaid maintains an uneasy blissful façade, this inconvenient truth leads to a slow but definite crumbling of all that he is. In the face of impending emotional evisceration, he clings to her even tighter; he knows not what he is without her. He soon learns: she utters words she can never take back, words he cannot live with. Overcome by debilitating heartache, he contemplates a permanent solution.
A middle-aged man struggles to provide for his unemployed girlfriend and their children. Their well-being is what he lives for. He works long hours, endures all manner of workplace abuses in the best interests of his family, almost never complains. But none of that guarantees his position. Shortly after lunch on a day he will never forget, he is summoned by his boss, who thanks him for his service then wishes him well in whatever he might undertake in the future. Suddenly the middle-aged exemplary worker finds himself unemployed, with little chance of landing another job any time soon. But he keeps the bad news to himself. Every morning he gets out of bed at his usual time, performs his usual chores, then says good-bye to his family. They believe he is headed for his workplace and will return home at the usual time. They have no idea of the horrible truth, that for weeks he has been on a frantic search for a new job, to no avail. It’s not long before his meagre savings have been exhausted. He is forced to reveal the truth to his wife. He turns to his friends and relatives for help. What they offer him is pity; most of them are also unemployed. His absence from home becomes more and more predictable. His family knows he’s doing the best he can to land a job. What they don’t know is that he cannot see light at the end of the dark tunnel that represents his immediate future; that he is ready to call it a day.
How many of you reading this identify with the described situations and emotions? How many times have you thought there was only one way out of your misery? How many of you have lost a friend or family member to suicide? Those of you who have may still be asking the same question: Why? You blame yourself. Why did you not notice something that might have warned you of impending disaster? Why were your love and attention not enough to prevent your child, sibling, parent or friend from doing the unthinkable? What could you have done differently?
Understanding the general reasons why people commit suicide is vital to any earnest attempt at curbing it. The first thing that needs to be understood is that people who attempt suicide do so not because of a desire to die, but because they desperately want to stop living – a curious dichotomy to be sure, but one that should be understood in order to contextualize the specific motivations.
Some who commit suicide are psychotic and others are influenced by psychotropic drugs. But by far the most common cause of suicide, in Saint Lucia and the rest of the world, is depression. Acute depression is often characterized by emotional anguish which is so debilitating that remedy by conventional means seems impossible. This warps the thinking of the afflicted, lending credence to madness.
Depression is a mental disorder; hence, to be critical of a depressed individual who contemplates suicide is as absurd as deriding a multiple sclerosis (MS) sufferer for exhibiting spasms. What these people need is empathy and support. The stigmatization which dissuades those in crisis from seeking help needs to stop. They need a crisis centre manned by more than two counsellors and open beyond the hours of 9 am to 5pm – suicidal thoughts don’t stop at the close of the business day. Any of us could fall victim; like the numerous Saint Lucians of all ages and socio-economic persuasions who have been lost.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately one million people commit suicide every year – that amounts to one death every 40 seconds. For every person who successfully ends their life, at least 20 more fail in their attempts.
We lose an average of ten people a year to suicide in Saint Lucia. Thus far this year there have been seven confirmed cases. The most recent suspected case took place on November 1st of this year when the life of Herbert Weekes of Bexon came to a premature end when he allegedly imbibed a noxious substance. If the suspicion is confirmed, his death would be the eighth such case in Saint Lucia thus far for 2017.
On 8th October perhaps the most gruesome case occurred when the decapitated body of Corinth, Gros Islet resident, Paul Fanus was discovered. The month prior there were repeated calls for prayer and unspecific requests for action by elected officials after three suicide related deaths occurred: on the 18th September Lazarus Alexander of Grande Ravine, Dennery succumbed to the antecedent ingestion of a noxious substance; and a sixteen-year-old Maynard Hill resident, Nakyshka Edgar, as well as 42-year-old Kurt Mason of Gadette Dennery were both found suspended by the neck on 20th September.
In the words of the American TV icon Phil Donahue: “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” To those of you who are in a dark place right now, I will not dare question the authenticity of your darkness. However, please believe there is a dawn just beyond the horizon!