SUI­CIDE, THE ECON­OMY AND ‘GROS PWEL’

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Ginelle Nel­son

This week’ it is pru­dent to ex­am­ine and at­tempt com­pre­hen­sion of the fa­tal self-harm­ing acts of sui­cide.

Glob­ally, sui­cide ranks among the three lead­ing causes of death among per­sons aged 15–44 with an es­ti­mated 900,000 peo­ple hav­ing com­mit­ted sui­cide. When con­tex­tu­alised, that fig­ure rep­re­sents one death ev­ery 40 sec­onds (WHO, Au­gust 2012).

Within the past two years, the Saint Lu­cian pop­u­la­tion has been be­sieged by re­ports of com­pleted and at­tempted sui­cide, the lat­ter of which is grossly un­der­re­ported. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, the state of the Saint Lu­cian econ­omy has pro­pelled in­creased un­em­ploy­ment with fi­nan­cial chal­lenges in all sec­tors. Th­ese chal­lenges ap­pear to be erod­ing the al­ready ten­u­ous fab­ric of psy­cho­log­i­cal sta­bil­ity among the pop­u­lace.

Men­tal health chal­lenges are in­escapable con­se­quences of fi­nan­cial crises which epit­o­mize chronic so­ci­etal stress. At both a per­sonal and so­cial level, the im­pact of such a cri­sis is grave with in­creased un­em­ploy­ment rates, eco­nomic chal­lenges, low­ered living stan­dards and in­come in­equal­i­ties, all of which pro­duce aug­mented lev­els of de­pres­sion, drug and al­co­hol abuse, ad­dic­tion re­lapses, sui­ci­dal­ity (in­ten­tion and at­tempt) and sui­cide. ‘So­ci­etal de­pres­sion’ grad­u­ally oc­curs as th­ese mal­adap­tive and dys­func­tional re­sponses to dire eco­nomic con­di­tions be­come so se­vere that they per­me­ate all sec­tors of so­ci­ety. This canopy of de­pres­sion con­notes na­tional in­er­tia, apathy and feel­ings of help­less­ness among groups in so­ci­ety.

The cor­re­la­tion be­tween sui­cide and the eco­nomic cli­mate of any so­ci­ety has been widely doc­u­mented. In 2012, the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal pub­lished the find­ings of a study con­ducted in the UK which high­lighted the link be­tween the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis and the sub­se­quent in­crease in sui­cides. Ac­cord­ing to that study, English re­gions with the largest rises in un­em­ploy­ment re­ported the largest in­creases in sui­cides, par­tic­u­larly among men. A sim­i­lar study, pub­lished in 2013, was con­ducted in se­lected Euro­pean coun­tries and Amer­ica us­ing in­for­ma­tion gar­nered from the WHO’s mor­tal­ity data­base. Re­sults in­di­cated that sui­cide rates in­creased mainly among the male pop­u­la­tion. It was found that “Rises in sui­cide rates among Euro­pean men were high­est in those aged 15-24, while in Amer­i­can coun­tries, men aged 45-64 showed the largest in­crease. Rises in na­tional sui­cide rates in men seemed to be as­so­ci­ated with the mag­ni­tude of in­creases in un­em­ploy­ment.” Th­ese stud­ies echo in part many facets of the St. Lu­cian pop­u­la­tion.

A plethora of stud­ies has been con­ducted that il­lus­trate the dis­par­ity be­tween males and fe­males with ref­er­ence to com­pleted and at­tempted sui­cide. Most have shown that although men are ‘more suc­cess­ful’ at sui­cide, fe­male at­tempts are al­most three times as fre­quent. It is im­per­a­tive to note here, that the ter­mi­na­tion of em­ploy­ment af­fects not only to­tal in­come, but more im­por­tantly self re­gard and per­ceived so­cial sta­tus. Ad­di­tion­ally, many cou­ples ex­pe­ri­ence a dra­matic de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in their re­la­tion­ships as a re­sult of fi­nan­cial con­straints. ‘Gros pwel’ (or Ta­banca as it is called in some re­gional states) is de­fined as a state of de­pres­sion with with­drawal symptoms, if a loved one is re­jected. It en­gen­ders so much ex­ces­sive worry about un­re­quited love that the in­di­vid­ual re­fuses to eat and/ or sleep. Also re­ferred to as ‘lovesick­ness’, the symptoms as­so­ci­ated with ‘gros pwel’ mir­ror those of the clin­i­cal con­di­tion, de­pres­sion. The distinc­tion, how­ever, is in the cause or pre­cip­i­tat­ing fac­tor of the con­di­tion. In other words, de­pres­sion be­comes a ‘gros pwel’ only when it in­volves the exit of one part­ner.

Within the Caribbean Di­as­pora in par­tic­u­lar, one of the fun­da­men­tal pil­lars of the male iden­tity is that of pro­vi­sion. There­fore, when a re­duced or ab­sent in­come ren­ders the man in­ca­pable of func­tion­ing in the role in which he was seem­ingly de­signed, and prob­lems oc­cur in the re­la­tion­ship, ‘gros pwel’ is com­mon. The sever­ity of this con­di­tion is com­pounded when the man’s part­ner de­cides to exit the re­la­tion­ship, or en­ter into an­other si­mul­ta­ne­ous re­la­tion­ship. Note though, that in many cases, it is the man’s per­cep­tion of how he is viewed by oth­ers cou­pled with his self-dep­re­cat­ing thoughts that con­trib­ute to his feel­ings of help­less­ness and sui­ci­dal­ity. Notwith­stand­ing the cur­rent fi­nan­cial dilemma in Saint Lu­cia, the re­gion and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, it is im­per­a­tive that as a na­tion we guard against so­ci­etal de­pres­sion and na­tional in­er­tia. Per­sonal and so­ci­etal chal­lenges are to be an­tic­i­pated dur­ing pe­ri­ods of eco­nomic strain and the domino ef­fect is clear: global fi­nan­cial crises pro­duce eco­nomic chal­lenges re­gion­ally and at a na­tional level. Lower in­comes and high un­em­ploy­ment af­fect qual­ity of life and give rise to sig­nif­i­cant prob­lems in re­la­tion­ships. Ad­di­tion­ally, the nexus be­tween sui­cide and de­pres­sion is un­de­ni­able given the psy­cho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of help­less­ness, hope­less­ness, guilt and de­spair that un­der­pin the two. How­ever, hu­man be­ings in­stinc­tively seek the preser­va­tion of life and will there­fore re­flex­ively cling to a mus­tard seed of hope. A so­ci­ety’s pro­cliv­ity for re­silience can only be af­firmed via col­lec­tive cog­ni­tive re­struc­tur­ing: op­ti­mism rather than pes­simism, hope rather than de­spair, sol­i­dar­ity rather than iso­la­tion and en­cour­age­ment rather than re­jec­tion.

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