Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Alarming Phenomenon of Suicide Attempts in Saudi Arabia | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Who was it that taught that Saudi girl to sneak to the highest point of the building with the intention of committing suicide? With no external influence, she jumped with the intention of terminating a life that she perceived as meaningless and to escape the reality she lived through which &#34made her sleepless&#34. If it had not been for destiny and the arrival of the civil defense team who successfully saved her life after the operations departments received an alert about a suicide attempt by a 17-year-old girl, it would have been a regretful scene! Who suppressed the fury of the 24-year-old girl who tried to end her life last March by eating a deadly meal, made up of 24 pills at home following a furious quarrel with her mother? The enquiries continue into the suicide attempt of a 22-year-old man in Al-Taif last January when he set fire to himself and was saved only after the flames almost consumed his body and soul.

Numerous cases of attempted suicide in different parts of Saudi Arabia have been tackled in the Saudi press and media over the past year.

On a global level, the World Health Organization has confirmed the increasing rates of suicide among youth all over the world, especially in Europe, have reached a million cases a year. It expected the figure to rise to 1.5 million by the year 2020. The organization reveals that a case of suicide is registered every 40 seconds in the world, which accords with the facts previously recorded that at least one person tries to end his life every three seconds.

Official reports in the United States confirm that 29 thousand cases of suicide are recorded annually, with a rate of 80 cases per day.

In France, statistics indicate that there are 23 suicides daily. A study shows that suicide rates increased between 1993 and 1999 by 40% for girls and 20% for boys although the rate of successful suicide attempts in France has decreased by 15% since 1985.

However, international reports prove that the suicide cases are rare in Islamic countries in comparison to other countries, especially the former Soviet Union.

In Saudi Arabia, those who usually address and handle suicide attempts are security authorities and civil defense. These men are well trained in dealing with these cases unlike the friends and families of those who seek this method of escape. Such a sensitive issue requires wisdom and deliberation.

Nevertheless, in some cases, parents have succeeded in saving their son or daughter from committing suicide. However, the problem remains that though this person”s life has been saved, their desire to commit a crime against their self may remain. Despite the success of security and civil defense teams in thwarting many attempts of suicide in Saudi Arabia, and the emphasis of religious men on resorting to prayer, fasting and supplication at times of desperation, depression and boredom, the psychological aspects of ones character are not disclosed. A significant number of those who attempt suicide according to psychiatrists” records in Saudi Arabia seek psychiatric help.

From Asharq al-Awsat”s observation, it is apparent that the majority of society perceive suicide as a crime. A number of men do not agree that psychological factors may lead someone to consider committing suicide nor did they approve of the idea of psychiatric treatment for people who have violent tendencies towards themselves. They described suicidal people as &#34devoid of a sound mind&#34 and many admitted that they would panic if they were faced with somebody close to committing suicide.

Another section of society saw that suicidal people are usually unattached to religion. This group would, if faced with somebody suicidal, would attempt to stop him by reminding him/her of the warnings of the Quran and the Hadith (the Prophet Muhammad”s sayings) for those who commit suicide, and would further highlight the rewards for patience and endurance during difficult times and for those who fight against evil.

Another group concluded that suicide is a late stage of insanity due to a loss of money or power. One Saudi woman said that someone who turns to suicide must &#34suffer discrimination from his/her family or be victim to marital problems.&#34

Abdul Rahman Al-Ali, says, &#34There are few cases of suicide in Saudi Arabia and I can”t imagine that a sane person would harm himself let alone commit suicide. We do not take suicide seriously because nobody in his right mind would consider it.&#34

Doctor Asad Sabry, consultant of psychiatry and head of the department for treating drug addiction at Al-Amal medical center (the largest center for the treatment of psychiatric disease in Saudi Arabia) discusses the matter. He says that occasionally, he hears about the suicide of a patient who visited the psychiatrist. He refers to one case of suicide by someone from one of the rural areas in Saudi Arabia after seeking psychiatric treatment. However, he asserts that it is highly dangerous to disregard psychiatry, which plays a major part in saving the lives of many people, especially those who feel suicidal.

He adds, &#34I was supervising the treatment of a young girl of 24 years old who was considering ending her life. Last week, she came to the end of her one year treatment course and is now very stable.&#34

Doctor Asad warns against carelessness towards those who indicate signs of depression that may lead to suicide. These signs may include excessive sleeping, laziness or anxiety and/or a lack of eating. He stresses the importance of psychiatric care for such people rather than dismissing such behavior off as attention seeking.

Professor Sabr continues his explanation of suicide saying &#34suicide from a psychological viewpoint is a sign of depression that when intensified, forms ideas and tendencies of wanting to die and the lack of will to live, so they convince themselves that death is better and plan to end their lives.&#34

Sabr points out that for some patients who suffer from depression, they are too far developed in their illness to be treated. At that stage, a patient needs electrical aversion treatment and constant observation especially that these patients have become resistant to medication (treatment-resistant depression).

Suicides in Mecca:

Colonel Mohammed Al-Menshawi, head of the department of criminal statistics and studies in the holy capital, is currently studying the suicide phenomenon in Mecca. He says that the rate of suicide has increased alarmingly in Saudi Arabia and refers to the satellite revolution and the spread of technology as weakening importance of religion for members of society. This in turn led to an increase of reasons for one to commit suicide. He adds that, &#34We were formerly used as an example to demonstrate a country with the least number of suicide cases. Now, a person who says that there are no suicides in Saudi Arabia is being falsely proud.&#34 At the same time, he says that the number of suicides among Saudi Arabians is still few compared to visitors to the country and foreign residents.

Al-Menshawi is near completion of his study, which includes data collected concerning suicide inside Mecca in cooperation with The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj Research. Al-Menshawi confirms that the study will be ready in three months after completing fieldwork of one year, which began in February 2005.

Al-Menshawi clarifies that the study includes scientific data collected from police stations in Mecca. After recording a suicide, the police would fill in one of these forms concerning the suicide of either a Saudi or a foreigner. These forms would be analyzed by researchers, and part of the report would also refer to the economic situation, the social and psychological state of the suicide victim.

His assistant, Doctor Jamal Kahlout, a researcher at The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj Research, says that the phenomenon does exist in Saudi Arabia and that Saudi society is fully aware of this; however, researchers are yet to discover the reasons behind it.

Doctor Ali Al-Shebl, a professor of creed at the Imam Mohammed Bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh, believes that suicide stems from a psychological imbalance, spiritual loss and the inability to endure life”s calamities and problems. In his view, it origin”s lie in a lack of faith or complete disbelief in destiny. He adds, &#34Someone who cannot stand the trials and tribulations of life wishes in his heart to die, and may take matters into his own hands by fulfilling this wish.&#34

Al-Shebl quotes a saying from Prophet Muhammad in which he says, &#34whoever kills himself with an iron tool will do so in the hellfire.&#34 Al-Shebl continues relating that when one fighter was praised in front of the Prophet for his courage, the prophet said that this fighter is going to hell. One of the prophet”s companions heard this and swore to follow him. After following the man to one of the battles, the companion saw that the man was exhausted from his wounds and was sure of death; he placed the tip of the sword in the middle of his chest and leaned on it until it came out of his back. The companion came and bore witness that Muhammad was prophet of God, and told him what he saw.

Al-Shebl explains that killing oneself is a crime from another point of view. This person is not the rightful owner of his life therefore, if he kills himself, he violates the right of God Almighty. Suicide and murder is a violation according to the verse &#34And whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell to abide therein; and the Wrath and the Curse of Allah are upon him, and a great punishment is prepared for him.&#34 (Al-Nisaa 93).

Doctor Ali reaches the conclusion that people who fall into such a state of desperation are of two kinds. The first may be mentally disturbed to the extent that they may reach insanity, causing this person to act irresponsibly. Such a state may have occurred due to drug or alcohol abuse. The other kind are those who commit suicide as a result of a certain incident or disaster such as an economic loss or some sort of family crisis. Such a difficult situation as well as a lack of faith in destiny, and no fear of God, can encourage the idea of taking ones own life.

The professor of creed lays part of the responsibility for this on visual media and argues that some of the scenes in movies, news, soaps and documentaries indirectly encourage unfortunate people to carry out suicide. He adds, &#34We were unaware of hanging oneself as a method of suicide until foreign labor and the media arrived here&#34. He states that all religions preserve five rights; the holiest of them is that of self-preservation.