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Why the Taboo about Suicide?

A recent suicide by one of the neighbors in my street has resulted in some typical behaviors by people when they find out that someone has taken their life. I have spoken previously about the anger many people feel towards the person who has committed suicide, as well as the common consensus that the person is selfish for committing such an act. For the full list of articles on suicide and its ramifications, see the link at the end of this article.

The stigma of suicide goes back a long way, which probably explains why no-one likes to talk about it. But the process of not talking about it paradoxically increases the number of suicides in our communities. It’s not hard to work out why. If a person is not permitted to “feel bad” for want of a better phrase for more than perhaps a couple of weeks, then the clear message is to “pull your socks up” or “ move on”.

Hence a person, particularly a male who feels he is not coping, but also feels that he can’t reveal this, becomes a powderkeg of emotions that sometimes, under the right circumstances, ends in tragedy.

Of course, the roots of the taboo of suicide go back to our religious past, where it was considered a sin to take one’s own life. This resulted in the deceased not even being allowed to be buried in the local cemetery, since that was sacred ground, but had to be buried outside the cemetery. An outsider in life thus became an outsider in death.

And then there was the shame to the family that one of their members was a social pariah, even in death. All of this thinking is illogical, but such was the power of the local cleric to instill these ridiculous ideas into the heads of the often illiterate parishioners that they had little choice but to accept it.

We are far more educated society now and understand that depression is an illness, not a weakness, and yet in some people’s minds, the stigma of suicide remains. It’s about time we all emerged from the dark ages, talked about the increasing rates of suicide in Western countries, educated ourselves if need be and actively help those who are undergoing stress and who could be possible candidates for suicide.

Suicide can happen to anybody. And for those who think they would never take their own life because of their faith or their will to live, think again. Until you have experienced life situations that overwhelm you to the extent you feel totally out of control, you can never know the reality and uncontrollability of the “black dog”.


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