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Suicide and its socio-economic consequences

World suicide day fell on Sept. 10

Suicide is becoming one of the most serious social problems in the contemporary world. Suicide is an act, which leads towards the end of human life. It is a complex form of human behaviour and part of human nature as well as a challenge on human existence. The great scholar Emil Durkheim (1858-1917) theorized about suicide from a sociological perspective. He claimed that suicide is the death resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result. He said that suicide is a social phenomenon which is, at the same time, a personal act.

In general or from a religious perspective, the birth of human species is regarded as superior to that of other living beings. Every human being shares the responsibility to safeguard this superiority. Man wants to live his life fully and happily as well as he tries to maintain his physical well being by all positive ways. Man even wishes to overcome death. But, in contrast, there are people who decide to commit or attempt suicide to end their lives. It is regrettable that man, being a rational being, commits suicide while other living beings have never attempted it.

Suicide is observed to be a grave social, moral and economic problem in some developing and developed countries. It is on the increase among the people regardless of their economic and educational background. Everyday, all over the world more than 1000 people are reported to have committed suicide with an average of one committed every 40 seconds; an attempted suicide happens every three seconds.

Most suicides are between the ages of 14 - 30. Nowadays suicide is the world's 9th leading cause of death. In persons between ages 15 and 24, It is the 3rd leading cause of death but in Sri Lanka, its rate is twice as high as anywhere else. The world average suicide rates are between 15 and 25 per 100,000 populations. But in Sri Lanka, it is more than 55 per 100,000.

During the past 15 years in the war-torn Sri Lanka, it is estimated that about 80,000 people have been killed but death due to suicide in the same period are estimated to 106,000. However, when we look at suicide rate in Sri Lanka, it is not always high; rather, it has reached its highest levels only in the past few decades.

But data on suicide are always subject to scepticism. Undoubtedly, what is even more alarming in statistics is that these estimates of suicide are low compared with the actual number of people, who take their own lives. Many suicides are unreported for a variety of reasons. Many civil and religious authorities are reluctant to report a death as suicide because of religious implications and it is a sin to take one's own life. Even if there were no religious implications involved, the surviving family, friends and loved ones have a great burden to carry concerning their loved one's death.

Industrial revolution

Even though, suicide and attempted suicide have occurred since the beginning of mankind, the suicidal behaviours increased largely as a result of the industrial revolution. As the industrial revolution grew in strength and spread geographically across Europe and the United States of America, old patterns of living were disrupted, workers were exploited, and extended families and community structures disintegrated. People were left to face a changed, more hostile world with fewer supports than they could previously have expected from family, community and church. Due to the industrialization widespread societies began to collapse and a high suicide rate was claimed. And also the development of capitalism appears to have made a sizable contribution to the rise of suicide rate. The loss of the solidarity system of the guilds and corporations coupled with insecurity and instability are an integral part of capitalism, which is founded on individualism, competition, and acceptance or risk left individuals to face financial ruin alone.

The suicidal tendency, which exists everywhere, is the result of collective forces. The common factors in all suicide are increasing by alienation between the person and social group. And also recent researches indicate that a number of cultural, social, demographic, environmental, experimental behavioral, biological, psychological factors can influence on a person interested in suicide prediction. These factors can vary based on age, gender and ethnic group and they can change over time. So, suicide is a consequence of complex interaction among different factors.

Mainly, the psychological factors associated with the increase suicide risks include any of several psychological disorders, particularly, depression, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, inability to experience pleasure, aloneness and preoccupation with death. These factors affect not only the career, personality status, and psychodynamic constellations of the individual in question but also the motivations for his actions, thoughts, or feelings, that lead him to suicide.

Suicide risk

Further, a variety of socio-economic factors affect suicide risk. Most social scientists believe that a society's structure and value can influence the suicide rate. The low social status of women influences the rate of female suicide in Asia. For example, in Sri Lanka, where lovers of different social status, whose marriage would not be approved, may choose double suicide. Social isolation or lack of social support is associated with suicide. And also the growth of population and technology in the nation leads to a greater division of labour and lower social integration.

Divorce is a central indicator of social disintegration considering that fact the facility is most important in our society. Unemployment increases the risk of suicide. Further, there is enough evidence to suggest that some form of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide is associated with increase of suicide. The impact appears to be the strongest among young people. More recently, the internet has introduced a number of new issues. These are websites that help a person with suicide plans.

Next, when we look at how the thought of suicide arises from an individual's mind, it is a process of development from suicidal thought to completed action. The suicidal process begins at some point along the way throughout life. The actual process may develop over the course of days, weeks, months or years. It is consequent of conspiring factors and evolves in a person in interaction with those in his/her immediate circle. We can illustrate the path ways to suicide as follow: Stray ideas in mind ? Repetitive thoughts (happens frequently) ? Difficulty in overcoming these thoughts (tries but unable to gain control) ? Starts affecting daily activities ? Wishes become stronger (repeat to himself why should I live) ? Think of ending life prematurely (it is time) ? Select the plans ? Attempted suicide or committed suicide.

Everybody should pay more attention when a person shows warning signs of suicide. There are several possible indications in a person's suicidal behaviour. Here are some typical warning sings: a) Talking about suicide, including making such statement as "I am going to kill myself" "I wish I were dead" or "I wish I had not been born." b) Withdrawing from social conduct and having an increased desire to be left alone.

3) Wide mood swings such as being emotionally high one day but deeply discouraged the next. d) Preoccupation with death and dying or violence. e) Change in routine, including eating or sleeping pattern. f) Personality change such as becoming very out going after being shy. g) Self destructive behaviour such as drug use or unsafe driving. h) Giving away belongings or getting affairs in order. i) Saying goodbye to people as if they will not see him again.

Socio- economic issues

The primary arguments against the act of suicide asserts that humans are by nature social creatures with responsibilities to society, to each other, to the self, and to certain standards of dignified behaviour. Thus, a major contention is that suicide is a crime against society in the view that individuals are indebted to society for their existence and must perform certain social duties in return for the benefits that society provides by committing suicide. Individual renege on this commitment.

As moral physical beings, we have three positive duties, self preservation, preservation of the species, and preservation of our natural capacity to enjoy life. Self preservation is one of man's duties toward himself. So, the preservation of life is the highest duty of an individual. One must always respect humanity. Anyone who contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. Humans have a duty to do right things that are inherently good.

Everyone has the duty to care, duty to be fair, duty to respect personal and group rights, duty to avoid harm, duty to respect others, duty to respect confidentiality but committing attempted suicide is wrong and against humanity.

Philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau explored the relationship between individual and society. According to him, there are two types of freedom existing in human life. One is natural freedom and the other one is social freedom. Natural freedom is freedom in the state of nature, in which one can do as one pleases; individuals give up natural freedom when they become bound together in a society for the greater benefits that social freedom provides. Social freedom is the freedom to realize the will of the collective, which takes precedence over the individual will within the collective. Individuals have the freewill to do what the general will wants them to do. If individuals do not abide by the general will, they will suffer repercussions because the social structure cannot sustain too many actions that go against the collective. The social structure requires a certain pattern of behaviour of its members in order to endure.

Emil Durkheim, by saying that society is a complex organism that springs from our collective life, gaining an existence and momentum of its own.

A stable society needs productive and capable individuals who are not completely self - oriented to maintain the collective as a cohesive entity. The above argument suggests that all members of society have an equal stake in its functioning.

Therefore, if anybody commits or attempt to commit suicide, it would be a burden to a good society.

Scholars who have argued that suicide violates our duties to others; generally claim that suicide not only affects the person who commits it; it also affects everyone who knows him. Suicide can harm either family friends, loved ones, etc, or it is a harm to the community as whole.

No doubt, the suicide of a family member or loved one makes a person face a number of harmful psychological economical effects. Suicide can also cause clear economic or material harm, as when the suicidal person leaves dependents unable to support themselves financially. Therefore, suicide can be understood as a violation of the distinctive role of obligations applicable to spouse, parents and other care takers.

It would be appropriate to explain a suicidal person's duty with an instance. The person committing suicide might have had a number of economic responsibilities. If a person has young children for whom he / she are solely responsible, the burden might fall on relatives, who may be more or less financially able to shoulder the responsibility. If no such relatives or even very close friends are available, the state will have to take on the responsibility for expense of relocating and raising the children.

There will also be traumatic, emotional effects on the children. Suicide generally leaves painful, unresolved, angry and guilty feelings in those close to the people who are left behind. And suicide directly affects not only family members and relations but also the development of a nation. It affects the entire nation in a negative manner. Therefore, in this kind of situation, suicide would be morally wrong.

Some claim that when an individual commits suicide, society loses the skills and knowledge the individual possesses. This argument appears to relate to the idea that individuals have an obligation to society.

Suicide directly affects not only family members, relations but also the development of a nation. It affects the entire nation in a negative manner.

For example, in Sri Lanka, the suicide rate is twice as anywhere else in the world. Going by a hypothesis used in Sri Lanka there are about 100,000 attempted suicide cases per year. The majority who survive suffer either from physical or mental disorders.

This indicates that roughly about 30,000 - 40, 000 people who should be economically active will not productively contribute to the national development effort. This can have adverse implications on the national economy.

The state spends more than Rs. 100,000 on a person's education, health and other welfare facilities. When the country loses about 10, 000 of its citizens and has about another 30,000 of its labour force physically or mentally handicapped annually due to attempted suicide, the money invested on them by the state is lost to the nation. Going by the above estimation, the state loses about Rs 1000 million invested on social welfare of those who commit suicide and another Rs 3000 million invested on those who attempt suicide totalling to about Rs 4000 million, annually.

If they are to live and are to work, the country will have more than 800,000 more people annually, for use of development of the country, estimating they would work for another 20 years. The question raised here is whether a poor country like Sri Lanka can afford to lose such a big amount of money and labour.

According to the above suicide is a burning issue throughout the world. Everybody should try to prevent suicide and especially the Government should implement several programs to prevent suicide.

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