The price of suicide

There is no doubt that for the families, friends and colleagues of people who commit suicide it is an absolutely dreadful thing. It leaves them to do soul searching of a kind that might never find an adequate answer, and which possibly only the deceased could answer.

Suicide can be caused by a host of problems. And a wide spectrum of age brackets experience it. A good example is at youth level. Here peer pressure to be like others, or coming from an unstable family background where there is not much parental or guardian input into ones life, are major causes. Another major problem is bullying, whose damage might not fully display itself until one reaches adulthood where they might find it difficult to comply with the social norms and may become a sort of outcast.

At adult level it could be a whole range of causes, from failure to provide for family or disintegration of family unit, depression that was perhaps caused by loss of employment. Particularly vulnerable are those in isolated farming communities where issues such as drought, crop failure or economic viability of a farm can all cause financial and personal crises. Others in high pressure sections of employment such as banking or those who have served in the military and saw combat or other events that traumatized them.

The cost to society from suicide is substantial. In 2002, the estimated cost to New Zealand society from acts of suicide was almost N.Z.$1.4 billion.

In Japan there is a forest at the foot of Mt Fujiyama, which for reasons not well understood, has seen over 100 people commit suicide. So many have done so that it is now patrolled by volunteers in order to prevent its grisly toll increasing. Japan has a very high suicide rate that despite regular publicity over the years has in no way seemed to diminish. The Japanese Government seems reluctant to address the issue. A major portion of suicides stem form just two groups of people:

  • Students who feel societal pressures to perform well and get good jobs so that they may look after their parents and grandparents
  • Men, especially middle aged men who have lost their jobs for one reason or another – a certain stigma seems to be attached to losing a job in Japan, with reports that in one location men who are unemployed will get up and go to work, except that instead of going to work, they go and loiter around a park to hide their shame

As shown in Japan, certain behaviours might be an indicator of potential harm, such as hikikomori – a person that seems to withdraw from view, often for the same or similar reasons as the causes of suicide. But it is the socio-economic reasons in Japan, as well as some cultural ones, that seem to highlight the problem most clearly. One is that not being a Christian nation with high emphasis on life, suicide is not seen in a negative light. This is highlighted by the samurai practice of seppuku, or the kamikaze pilots who deliberately crashed into Allied warships during 1944-1945. And in a rule oriented society, complaining or otherwise showing ones true feelings is discouraged.

If the cost in New Zealand of suicide is so high, one can only guess how much – despite cultural and socio-economic differences – it must cost Japan.


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