Nearly one million people the world over die by suicide each year according to the World Health Organisation. The World Health Organisation stated that in 2012 there were 803,000 reported suicides. The real number is likely to be closer to double. In general, suicide takes more lives than war. But what leads to suicide? In understanding the first ever World Health Organisation report on suicide the major cause is depression.
Most developed countries report depression as affecting between one in six to one in eight people, with crippling forms of depression affecting one in one hundred people. Depression has often been associated with a sense of failure, a sense of loss, a sense of incapacity in dealing with the high expectations of the developed world. Diagnoses of various depression have skyrocketed during the last several decades in developed countries. As economic times worsen in developed nations, so too is there a rise in the number of people with various depression, a rise in self harms and in suicides. As stressors pile up, renters stress, mortgage stress, spiralling credit card repayments, a widening spectrum of familial needs, endless bills piling up, so do psychosocial and psychological stress. As employer and employee pay divides widen, as average worker wages are kept down, as cost of living outpaces the wages dividend, so the various stresses pile up. Many argue that for the majority of people that poverty is induced, so too then it may well be so for many depressions.
Coping with life’s race of social expectations can become that incoherent rat race, one with no light at the end of the tunnel for far too many. Many cling on to a flicker of hopes and aspirations to steer them through the endless dark tumult, and others find some resilience in sacrifice, such as sacrificing themselves for their children, for their children to have a shot at the best possible life.
But depression is not just limited to the developed nations. It is near everywhere, because the developing nations are on the same journey as the developed nations. Civilisation as we know it nurtures itself crudely by a coterie of expectations, which then become demands. We measure ourselves by whether we have met or are likely to meet these demands. Societies have developed around these expectations, and hardwired around these norms with for instance a justice system, a retributively punitive one with a harsh penal estate created to outcast those who fail to assimilate to these norms. It does not matter whether the impost is of low or high levels of these expectations, it is about obedience and assimilation. Prisons the world over are filled with people suffering depressions, mental ill-health, who have been broken by the unnatural stresses imposed by this so-called developing world.
Depression is a disorder of a world with a bent on developing an economic climate with a one-size-fits-all for the majority of the population but in reality has been undermined by exploitation of human labour, by the short changing of the wages dividend, by the stealing of the world’s resources by the few, by unregulated market economies propagandizing consumption at all costs. People are becoming less happier than ever before in human history. There is a crisis within humanity that is disturbing the soul of humanity despite the monoliths and idolatry that humanity is building all around itself, the infrastructure and the technology. But the people are not happy. It may well be already that one billion people on this Earth are clinically depressed. Various studies have shown that the healthiest communities are small communities, and particularly those relatively untouched by various imposts from the developed and developing nations. In Indigenous communities around the world, from the Amazon to the Arnhem Land where despite the majority of the rest of the world seemingly thriving in skyscrapers and in the corralling of humanity into schools and the job market, there were no suicides, there was no understanding of any explicit concept of suicide. In the Arnhem Land the first suicide has been attributed to the early 1980s. The peoples of the Arnhem, whatever their language group, did not have a word for suicide and had to coin a new one. The push to impose ‘developed’ Australia upon Indigenous communities in the remote has contributed to spiralling rates of depressions among remote-living Indigenous peoples, and has led to some of the world’s highest suicide trends among Australia’s Indigenous peoples.
According to the World Health Organisation report about three quarters of all suicides occur in the low and middle-income earning countries. Poverty and the inability to rise out of being exploited, the inability to even meet low expectations induces sadness and depressions. The biggest cause of death in Australia’s Indigenous males aged between 15 years old to 29 years is suicide. In the developed world, suicide is the biggest cause of death in this age group and worldwide it is the second biggest cause of death in this age group, as ‘development’ comes on no-holds barred bent on leaving no stone unturned.
Nearly a million people are reported to die by suicide each year, and the World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 20 million attempt to take their lives. I argue that the real figures for both total suicides and attempted suicides are double these figures. And one billion people on this planet are in various states of depression. However we want to argue the figures, we cannot deny that not enough is being done to deal with the rise of suicide and depression. It is a crisis of humanity and this crisis should be front and centre of international and national agendas. According to the World Health Organisation, only 28 countries have national suicide prevention care strategies. In the poorest countries, and in among the poorest communities within even developed countries, there are minimal health services. In many of the world’s poorest communities, whether in developing or developed countries, there are no mental health and allied health services.
Depression may be triggered by biological predispositions but the rise in the number of suicides and in people with depression worldwide is in addition to those who have depression because of biological triggers. The world has not readied itself for what may come.
I have visited many prisons, and worked with people post-release, and it is my view that they have been burdened by the imposts of a society that they were never readied for or that makes very little sense to them. Ultimately people just want to be carefree and happy, engage with others and be treated as equals. Prisons are overcrowded and more prisons are being built to outcast and punish more people than ever before in human history. The United States of America incarcerates nearly one per cent of its total population, nearly 3 million of its people in jails, with three per cent of its total population before the criminal justice system at any one time. Post-release, people may have done their time but they fear the world they return to, it is the place from where they came from, the place that landed them in jail. In the first twelve months post-release there is a suicide trend up to ten times the suicide rate that occurs in jails annually. A significant majority of these suicides will occur in the first eight weeks post-release.
Nations and the world as a whole need to reassess their moral compasses, a hard-ask, maybe impossible, but in the least nations and the world need to prioritise mental health research. Depression and suicide prevention must be at the forefront, of this century’s agenda.
– Gerry Georgatos is a researcher in premature deaths, unnatural deaths, suicides and suicide prevention.