Suicide is often the ugly result of deep depression and despair. When life seems to lose its meaning, there is nothing left to fight for.
Sadly, suicide has become a ‘way of life’ in a number of wealthy Western societies. Budapest, which is listed as the most beautiful capital in the world, had the highest suicide rate in the world in the second half of the 20th century.
This number has progressively decreased in the last decade, but the number of Hungarians who decide to take their own lives is still high in the list with more than 19 people out of 100,000 committing suicide.
Greenland, with a per capita income of $37,000, tops the list as the number one suicidal region in the world.
What depresses a human being so as to do away with the most precious gift of life? What triggers suicide? Experts point at health, hereditary factors, wealth, stress, environment, culture, religion and family.
SUICIDE AND THE FAMILY
It is important to note most experts point at the dramatic role the family plays as a trigger of suicidal thoughts.
For example, a group of US scientists concluded that “suicide can be an act of despair, anger, or escape from intolerable pain associated with prior bonding disturbances within the family system, interpersonal loss, and current perceived lack of social support.”
Scientists have also concluded that it is also in the family where the solution should be found. “Suicide is one of the 10 major causes of death in most countries. The family can play an important role in the prevention of suicide (by) the early detection and management of family members at risk.”
According to the Socioeconomic Circumpolar Database ArticStat, in Greenland, there were 1,428 unions in 2011. Sixty percent of those were de facto cohabitations. In 2011 too, there were 516 divorces.
These figures have been more or less constant since 1995, which means that only 340 marriages survive every year. It may be necessary to carry out serious research to find out what and when the resilience of families in Greenland broke apart.
It would be naïve to say that suicide only happens in broken families. But it also seems foolish to deny the essential, material, emotional and effective support any human being finds in the family.
GETTING TO THE ROOT CAUSE
Traditionally, Africa had a strong social support system. Family was, and still is in many ways, one of the most important and sacred realities in African life.
Life happened in and around the family. Birth, friends, schooling, advice, marriage, growth and death happened in the confines of the family.
In Africa’s communal life, no one was disposable. Each person had his or her own place and importance. The dignity of the group was made up of the dignity of each one. This is why elders, useless and burdensome as some might have perceived them, enjoyed a high degree of respect and even sacredness.
There is an interesting episode in Kenya’s history that illustrates this. The eastern branch of the East African Rift fracture system is still known as the Gregory Rift.
It was named after John Walter Gregory (1864–1932), a British geologist, known principally for his work on glacial geology and on the geography and geology of Australia and East Africa.
Gregory was not the usual explorer, government official or missionary. As a good geologist, he travelled mostly unaccompanied, without caravans. He was interested in rocks, valleys and crevices.
GREGORY SHOULD NOT BE LEFT ALONE
During one of his escapades, the Maasai caught up with him and took him back to Fort Smith by force. They could not understand why a man would travel alone, without a caravan.
That was the strong sense of community the Maasai, like most people in East Africa, had. Everyone needed someone else’s support. Nobody is alone on earth; we are part of a bigger whole. In today’s modern life, this ‘whole’ is cracking.
Broken families are the result of a myriad of problems and challenges. Nobody should be judged for what happened in a broken relationship. But there is one fact we cannot and should not hide. The primary victims of broken families are the children, and their shattered dreams.
Life in itself is a challenge, and the family provides the primary cushion to face those challenges. A person with nobody to talk to, to open up to, is as lost as Gregory was in his valley.
We have acquired the gift of blaming everyone else for our faults. We blame the KCSE mass failure on the government, the teachers, the marking or the exam itself. But I do not see anyone wondering whether parenting had anything to do with such national failure.
GOING BEYOND THE CHRISTMAS GOAT
Christmas is not just about the goat, the beer, about raving and being a ‘raverend’, having fan, now without shisha. Christmas is a good time for deep personal reflection.
Young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, we all need to examine and rediscover the beauty of the family, those wonderful people we live with, those sacred moments we have desecrated with the help of social media, the bar or the salon.
One of the most beautiful things Barack Obama ever said was about parenting: “Any fool can have a child. That doesn’t make you a father. It’s the courage to raise a child that makes you a father.”
We may need to rediscover the family life-work balance that many have lost. Life is, as Einstein said, like cycling, to keep balance we need to keep moving. The challenge is finding out where to? And why?
May the end of 2017 help each of us examine our personal goals for 2018, match them to our family goals, and then move in the right direction.
Plato quoted Socrates when he said, “An unexamined life is not worth living”. Happy New Year!
Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi