By Laura Bashraheel - Saudi Gazette - JEDDAH – Although there have not been any recent statistics on suicide rates in Saudi Arabia, a number of cases have been reported by the local media creating concern in society about why people are taking their own lives.
The last time reports on suicide were released was in 2009 when the Ministry of the Interior stated that there were 596 cases in the Kingdom between 2009 and 2008. Within a month, more than three suicide reports appeared in local media describing it as a phenomenon.
Recently, a YouTube video of a young man hanging himself from a bridge in Riyadh was circulated on social media sites. The video created controversy about the reasons why the man killed himself and what sort of message he wanted to convey to the public.
In another report published in Al-Watan newspaper on Sunday, a girl committed suicide in Najran by hanging herself. The Najran police official spokesman Lt. Abdullah Mohammed Al-Ashawi, said they received a report about a young girl in critical condition at the local hospital but she could not be saved. The reason she committed suicide was not revealed.
A 40-year-old teacher also committed suicide last Friday in the Southern region. One of his wives found him dead in the morning after he shot himself with his gun. According to reports, he was a teacher and a preacher in a village mosque. Reports also claim the reason behind his suicide was that he was in debt and that he had two wives and ten children, which caused depression.
Dr. Mona Al-Sawwaf, consultant psychiatrist and the head of department at King Fahd General Hospital (KFGH) in Jeddah, explained why suicide rates have been rising in the last few years locally and internationally especially among children and younger age groups. “Psychiatric disorders and mental illness as well as alcohol related diseases are considered to be the three major causes leading to suicide. However, in recent years there have been other causes of suicide especially among younger age groups, younger men and children,” she said.
Al-Sawwaf also said that many non-mental health professionals are linking suicide causes to weak morals, poor religious beliefs or even being influenced by Satan. “These ideas reflect the cultural background of our society and not the real causes behind suicide,” she explained.
Suicide causes in Saudi Arabia are usually related to mental and psychological illness, financial pressure and low religious morals.
According to Al-Sawwaf, international health organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and others have delivered a clear warning about the increasing rate of suicide and have urged authorities as well as health professionals to study the reasons behind it. “Those world organizations also urged specialists to look at the effect of social and financial pressures with the current world economic crisis,” she added.
Al-Sawwaf believes that there is an urgent need to develop a multidisciplinary research team including mental health specialists, education professionals, media specialists and primary health care specialists.
“We need to train primary health physicians and family doctors to detect early warning signs of potential suicidal risk in patients with high risk factors,” she said.
On the other hand, Ali Badahdah, a faculty member of Islamic studies at King Abdulaziz University, said that suicide is forbidden in Islam, as God values the human soul. “Harming oneself is a crime against humanity,” he said.
“If we look into the issue of suicide, there is a difference between the explanation and analysis of the phenomenon. Whatever the circumstances, it does not justify suicide, but there are occurrences which could lead to suicide,” he explained.
Badahdah also believes that there are three main reasons for suicide. “If proper Islamic education and faith is not rooted in childhood, it will eventually cause weak belief in faith and destiny. Also, with all the openness and globalization nowadays, faith can be shaken easily,” he said.
He also explained how social bonds are very important within the family, society and the community. “If someone is under psychological stress, they should talk to a father, mother, or friend or go to the mosque,” Badahdah added.
“Our society is starting to suffer from social disintegration and young people do not talk to their families, perhaps because of the difference of generations,” he said.
In many reports, suicides are also linked to financial problems such as debts or not being able to find a job. Badahdah explained how the economic factor could be a major reason behind suicide. “When a young man is jobless or not able to collect enough money to start a family, it will eventually lead to depression,” he added.