The unbearable burden of being

Ahmed Shatil Alam charts the alarming rise in the number of suicides and attempted suicide cases in the country and the reasons behind these

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In Bangladesh, suicide is often regarded as an isolated case. Unfortunately the country has secured its position among the top suicide-prone countries in the world. Every hour more than one person commits suicide in Bangladesh, according to recent World Health Organisation estimation.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), eight among every 100,000 people commit suicide in Bangladesh and as per the estimation every year more than 12,000 people fall victims to the catastrophe. On the other hand, although Bangladesh police data showed low numbers even three to four years back, the figure has hovered around the 10,000 mark during the last three years.

Recently, a student of HSC committed suicide on July 23 after receiving the news that she has failed in the HSC examinations. Prior to that, on July 22, Zeheen Ahmed, an underground band guitarist and son of musician Manam Ahmed of the renowned band Miles, committed suicide by hanging himself at his Dhanmondi residence around afternoon in the city.

While talking to New Age Xtra, Joyosree Jaman, convener of anti-suicidal campaign forum Brighter Bangladesh, pointed out that the way suicide is increasing in Bangladesh, we can no longer consider it as an ‘isolated issue’. Meanwhile, social experts and psychiatrists pointed out the necessity of creating mass social awareness in the country to tackle the issue. They also urged setup of more suicide prevention programmes.

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According to the experts and suicide prevention groups, the majority of those who take their own lives are aged between 20 and 40 years. However, according to the children-based organisations, a significant number of children are also committing suicide every year and this trend is also showing an increasing rate with every passing year. The experts shared that among the reasons, the deceased usually kill themselves over personal relation issues, family issues, financial causes, stress from jobs and studies.

Bangladesh has also experienced some incidents of suicides based caused by ideological issues, for not getting a dress named after Indian daily soaps, due to the defeat of a favourite team in a cricket match and after facing cyber abuse and physical abuse or rape.

The country has also seen an increase in incidents of mass suicides.

One of the most horrible incidents of mass suicide occurred in Bangladesh in July of 2007, when a family of nine members, including two minors, committed suicide by giving their lives away on the tracks of the Dhaka-Mymensingh railway. On July 11, 2007, the family of a mother and her four daughters, two sons and two grand-children committed suicide due to ideological beliefs. This year, a father in his fifties committed suicide with his daughter by jumping over the railway before a speeding train in Gazipur after he failed to get justice for his daughter as a young man attempted to violate his daughter and tried to grab his land.

Victims’ family members and activists of suicide prevention groups have explained to New Age Xtra that the people who commit or attempt suicide, often think that suicide is the last resort for getting away from difficult circumstances. Clinical psychologist Rubina Jahan Rumi says, ‘The person who attempt suicide or commit suicide, actually use it as a way of getting away from a depressing or frustrating situation.’ Rubina, who has been working as the head of training and research department of Bangladesh’s first ever emotional support helpline centre Kaan Pete Roi, also shares that these people usually feel lonely as they share about his/her problems with anyone or reach any solutions to resolve the issue. ‘Ultimately, they choose suicide,’ she says.

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To get the victim’s perspective, New Age Xtra had approached a survivor who attempted suicide few years back after being cheated by her lover. ‘I was hurt and broken. I felt all these emotions bottled up inside of me. I could not share these with any of my family members or my friends,’ says Tamanna (pseudonym). She was studying at a private university in Dhaka. She had met and fell in love with a boy who was a few years senior to her and was studying at a public university. He used to say that Tamanna was not compatible with him and he began cheating on her with another girl. ‘The only reason he gave me was that I am not compatible with him,’ Tamanna shares.

She was devastated after the boyfriend broke up with her and continued his relationship with the other girl. ‘Before the relationship, I had another person in my life but due to his dominating and abusive character, I gave up with him and that is when my initial depression had begun,’ she shares. Later, she had found the boy from the public university and dreamt of a new start. But after her dreams were shattered, she often contemplated about commiting suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills and cutting the veins of her wrists.

‘Actually I was afraid of leaving the earth and my family…therefore I could not eventually take the final step of killing myself,’ she says. But, one day in 2012, a traumatised Tamanna could not control herself. She ended up overdosing on sleeping pills and swallowing poison.

She recalls, even on that day I had tried to talk with someone. ‘But unfortunately no one in my family or from my friends circle were ready to listen,’ she says. Later, she was rushed to the nearest hospital by her family and she survived. When asked, whether the decision she had taken was helpful for her, she says, ‘I made a wrong choice…and now I regret it’.

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Rubina said that after the initiation of Kaan Pete Roi in 2013, they have received around 12,000 calls from people and among them a ‘significant’ number of people were emergency cases most of whom survived despite being in a critical situation after attempting suicide. Currently in Bangladesh, there are few such facilities, when every year thousands of people commit suicide in the country.

According to Bangladesh Police data, 9,665 people committed suicide in 2010 and 9,642 people in 2011. The number rose up to 10, 108 in 2012. Over the last four years except for 2015, a total of more than 30,000 people have committed suicide all over the country by hanging or poisoning themselves. The data also showed that apart from these two methods, some victims set themselves on fire.

Also, there has been an alarming rise in suicide and attempted suicide cases among children from January till May of this year as at least 76 children committed suicide during this time, as per the data of Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum. The data also showed that 534 children committed suicide from 2013 to 2016.

Talking to New Age Xtra, BSAF programme officer Azmi Akter listed the various reasons behind suicide of children which include complications in family, academic pressure, unfavourable results, drug abuse, cyber abuse and rape. She urged parents to look after their children properly in a bid to understand his or her problems and pave the way for them to open up about their problems with them.

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In recent years, most suicide victims are taking the help of social media platforms to declare their deaths before committing suicide. Social scientists and psychiatrists claimed that this can be a new problem for the country if measures are not taken immediately to curb these incidents. They, however, felt that these people actually tried to convey messages to the society through which there may be some significant changes through their deaths.

In October in 2016, a private university teacher committed suicide after posting a status that she can commit suicide.  The deceased Rabeya Kulsum Pinky was a teacher at East West University.

Earlier in May 2016, Sabira Hossain, a female model and an executive at Gaanbangla television channel, allegedly committed suicide at her rented flat in Rupnagar area of Dhaka. Sabira wrote a post on Facebook on May 24, around 4:30 am before committing ‘suicide’. Mentioning her alleged boyfriend Nirjhar Sinha Rounaq’s name in the post, she wrote, ‘If I die he wil be responsible for my death.’ On the same day, she also posted a video where she was seen with a knife.

Earlier in 2014, Masum Ahmed (15) of Maulvibaazar district committed suicide after posting a similar facebook status.

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Zia Rahman, a Professor and chairperson from the Department of Criminology of Dhaka University mentioned that these incidents are occurring as the society in Bangladesh has been going through a transitional period for years. He also added that as the fatal incidents are linked with mental depression, a strong mental health facility should be built for the citizens to properly tackle the issue.

Rubina also said that a national level surveillance or study is mandatory to understand the absolute situation of suicide in Bangladesh. She also urged people not to rebuke or harass the survivors and family members of the deceased.