The Language Of Suicide: Speaking At The Cost Of Life

September 28, 2011 at 9:15 AMSep (Friends, Media, Musings, Slice Of Life, Soliloquy)

Through a friend I chanced upon an article by one Dr. Shyam Bhat who happens to be a psychiatrist. The article in question places the case of suicide committed by one Malini Murumu of IIM following a status update by her ex-boyfriend on facebook and makes arguments starting from the media coverage, to the way the world perceives suicides, the limitation of understanding of suicides within the legal framework and tries explaining the suicide phenomenon in medical framework.

I read the article re-read it and re-re-read it. Still it doesn’t convince me completely.

On one hand Dr. Shyam Bhat argues on the line that suicidal tendencies are a psychological problem or disorder and hence the external world cannot be blamed for it. He also argues that the external world needs to take care of people with such problem or disorder through “empathy, support and treatment.” If the external world has no control over the inner world, then how can the external world help? If it can help, it means that the external world too can affect the inner world, right? I am not saying that external factors are the cause for every suicide. But how can one rule out the role of the external world and give a clean chit to the external world in this fashion and argue that suicide is a very personal act? I have problems with it because I have always believed and still believe that suicide is a social murder.

I agree that there are psychological reasons which also play a role in pushing an individual to commit or attempt suicide. There are different kind of relationship that we form which, if I am not wrong, in psychological terms are called as thick relationship and thin relationships. So at times with one particular incident or speech we form such thick relationship that the slightest disturbances with that external factor causes immense internal disturbance. But as it has been discussed, by many, what if the external object itself is so strong that a thick relationship is formed? There could be psychiatric disorders which prompts an individual to commit or attempt suicide. With all these exceptions considered, I can’t come to believe that suicide is an internal matter alone. What about the thousands and thousands of farmer suicides? Did the external world have no role in their suicides? Was it a pure internal disorder? What about dowry deaths and deaths following domestic violence? Are they pure internal emotional problems?

The moment of suicide could be an “impulsive action” triggered by a “pre-existing emotional problem”. But what leads to that impulsive action cannot be a total personal and internal affair. There are external forces acting which create the emotional force for that impulsive action. But Dr. Bhat doesn’t speak of that and goes on to say things like nobody is responsible for the death of Malini, not even she herself. With that case in reference can we also say that in all the farmers suicide cases nobody is to be blamed and that only a pre-existing emotional problem killed them? Dr. Bhat also says that the external world should support and empathize with these people. Probably he means that these warm expressions will comfort the individual. So it means that the absence of support, empathy and other related emotions of love and care could one of the reasons for the individual to attempt suicide. How can we rule this out? While saying this how can we throw a blind eye on the larger system which itself is inhumane which leaves less space for sympathy, care, love, support and empathy? The external forces are acting on the internal formation of emotional forces which could lead to that one “impulsive action”.

My biggest problem with Dr. Bhat is this- his final and only solution for suicides seem to be medical help. I wonder why these doctors think that they are magicians with powers equal to supernatural powers to not just save life but also to give a life. As if the entire life of the world is dependent on doctors. (Well I have to say that there are exceptions) I have problems with these doctors thinking that they and they only can solve the problem. Dr. Bhat is almost saying, nobody is responsible for suicides and suicide attempts but if the person is saved then only doctors can save them and doctors are responsible for the continuing of life.

While I agree that medical help is necessary in some cases, the problem by emphasizing more only on the cure of suicidal symptoms and suicidal tendencies and viewing of suicide as just some “clinical illness”, as I see, leads not only to the problem of romanticizing of the medical profession, by the medical professionals themselves, but also in stressing more only on the medical side of suicide and neglecting the social, political and economical sides of a suicide. This can be a problem in understanding suicides.

Suicide is a language, as I see it. Someone is trying to say something at the cost of life. If we are not trying to understand that communicative element of a suicide, which will unveil the larger social political and economical forces and are branding it just as a “clinical illness” requiring “medical treatment” then to me it is, to use the same phrase that Dr. Bhat uses, “Utterly ridiculous” because suicide as i see is not just because of clinical disorder but also because of a certain kind of social order.

3 Comments

  1. swetha said,

    Hi Samvartha,

    I read and re-read your article and it still doesn’t convince me to any extent. I agree with Dr.Bhat that suicidal tendencies are psychological problems. But according to me, these are psychological problems a person develops ‘due to’ some existing/perceived problems in the external world. I also agree that empathizing and sympathizing with people having suicidal tendencies go a long way in preventing them. Taking the case of the IIM girl, do you think she would have taken the extreme step if her friends/family had made her see(at the right time) how trivial the matter was? What about the farmers in utter poverty and women suffering from ‘dowry torture’ who have ‘chosen’ to live through all their problems caused by the external world/society? That tells me, they had a stronger will power to endure their pains and they did not see killing themselves as a solution to their problems. If you suggest, killing oneself is to communication tool (a language!?), are we as a society lacking communication skills so grossly? Can’t we talk it out anymore? From how I see this, the only role of the society in the incidents of suicide is to ‘communicate’ thoughts and help people get out of their mental state. Studies have shown that, suicidal thoughts are momentary to a large extent and if it is prevented at the right time by counselling, there is very little chance of it re-occurring. As Dr. Bhat says, “Many suicides can be prevented by intervention before it’s too late.”

  2. Zalina said,

    I have never heard anyone describe suicide as ‘social murder’, and I have to say I agree with you totally. Also, your description of suicide as language is very apt.

  3. Shyam Bhat said,

    I agree with much of what you say here.

    In the post that you are referring to, rather than explore exceptions and nuances, i emphasized the role of the inner world – at least in this way, I feel, more lives will be saved.

    Of course, there are several exceptions; I think anyone undergoing severe , inhuman, and extreme stress (and the farmer suicides exemplify this) would think about suicide, and arguably it would be reasonable if they took their own lives.

    But although most of us would agree that the abject circumstances of the suicidal farmer is an understandable trigger for suicide, few of us would agree that the loss of a pet, for example, is reason enough for suicide.

    The question is this – what level of stress is “adequate” to constitute a reasonable trigger for suicide?

    Something that is tolerable to person A might be enough to be a trigger for suicide in person B.

    Viktor Frankl’s work in this regard is illustrative – as he says, lying down at the end of another brutal day at the concentration camp, happy merely to be alive : “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

    Depression, and several other emotional and personality issues makes the threshold for stress lower, and therefore the same thing that might drive us to tears and transient anguish, might result in another person attempting or committing suicide.

    Enjoyed your post, thanks for calling attention to these issues..

    best

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