Monday, September 10, 2012

Suicide in Jordan

As The Abdoun Bridge was being constructed, many equated it with giant bridges in the West, such as the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. It was the country's biggest, the most efficient, connecting parts of the big city that were far apart, and a masterpiece of design that improved the view of the cramped environment. And just like the Golden Gate Bridge, it was where young people went to kill themselves. Recently they found another one, a 27-year old man underneath the bridge. In 2010 they found another guy. Others try. Women too. Suicides also occurred in 2010.

In the 1980s, I remember reading the Guinness World Records books, and Jordan used to be mentioned only once.  It was in the suicide section. We had the lowest rates of suicides in the world with only one reported case in the history. Even as a child then I could tell this was a lie, because I had personally known of two Jordanians who had killed themselves years before: Author Tayseer Al-Sboul in 1973 and my mother's neighbor in Salt who threw herself off the balcony when Abdil Haleem Hafiz unexpectedly died in 1977. We had a problem then that we still have now: we under-report numbers that may indicate that our nation, God forbid, may have problems, especially when it comes to suicide.

Since we like comparing our bridges to the West, let's see what the West does when it comes to suicides. First, they admit they have a major problem with it. They analyze why do people kill themselves. They try to prevent it. For example, they found out that kids being bullied in schools have a much higher risk of committing suicide. They now have fierce anti-bullying campaigns in schools. They found out that military personnel tend to have very high rates as well, so they expanded programs allowing for soldiers to receive psychiatric consultations (maybe a better strategy would be: don't start more wars?). They still have a big problem with it, but at least they acknowledge it.

For every person who kills himself, there are many others who want to but failed or still didn't have the plan or energy to do it, but they will one day.

What can you we do as Jordanians?

First, don't say it's not your problem. There are people around you who are depressed who the thought of suicide came across their minds one day. Start with stressed out Tawjihi students and end up with wrist-slashing unmarried women in their 40s. Rarely ever will someone tell you "I'm depressed". But you'll be a fool not to note it with every conversation you have with them.

Secondly, don't make it a crime to see a psychiatrist or a counselor. If you have never felt too stressed in your life to the point of breaking down, then you haven't done anything challenging in your life. People react differently to stress. Even those who are able to handle it well have learned how to do it after some tough times.

Third, don't tell people it's their fault that they're depressed. Don't blame their parents or their siblings. Plenty of Jordanians suffer from pathological depression and they're not being treated. Being depressed doesn't mean you're less religious or that your family doesn't care about you. Sometimes, people just get "messed up" in the head. They can be very poor or very rich. They can be men or women. They can be the most sophisticated guy you know or a simple-minded person who can't form a single thought in his head.

Jordan is going through tough times, and many people in it have seen a lot of horrendous struggles in the past few years from the Iraq war to the overwhelming Israeli aggression to the mass murders in Syria. Even in Jordan there are more kids being born whose future is unlikely to be bright. We will have more people than ever who will think of life as not being worth living. It's not their fault , but it's your fault if not only you fail to reach out, but also deny their existence.