Families of Iraq’s suicide victims are ostracized by society

Saturday 8 January 202203:59 pm
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Ali, a young man in his early twenties, graduated with an engineering degree that would qualify him for a prestigious job and in turn win the approval of his girlfriend’s family, so that he could ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage.

Difficult times saw him working temporarily as a construction worker, just until he could realize his dream. Months passed as Ali continued to search for a proper job to no avail; looking for a needle in a haystack is now far easier than getting a job in today's Iraq.

He was shocked when learned one day that his beloved had married one of her relatives. He had spent his university years in love, busying himself with work and studying hard to get in the good graces of her family, so much so that the heart of his beloved became someone else’s. He couldn’t take it as despair and anguish took a hold of him, so in mid-September, he decided to end his life.

 After Ali committed suicide, the attempts to demonize him began, they accused him of taking drugs, others accused his family of bad parenting, or disowning him 

His friend Aysar al-Shimri, who likes to call him ‘Allawi’, recalls, “After Ali committed suicide, the attempts to demonize him began. They accused him of taking drugs, and that he had escaped his addiction through suicide. Others accused his family of bad parenting, which led them to disown their son, even though I know that they miss him and grieve him, but they did so because they could not break away from so-called traditions. If they do, they will be ostracized.”

The majority of Iraqi society views suicide as a deviation from Islam. Given that it is forbidden by religion, with time, it has transformed into one of the traditions that Iraqi societies consider to be on par with preserving religion and protecting these societies from anything that could affect their faith.

Iraq is currently witnessing an increase in suicide rates. The spokesman for the Interior Ministry announced that 772 committed suicide during 2021, 109 more cases than those documented in the previous year. Adolescents under the age of 18 took the lead with 36% of the total number of suicide cases, followed by young people in their twenties, at 32%. The latest statistics also revealed that the rate of male suicides has increased by 55% compared to that of females. In terms of educational attainment, 62% of them had not completed primary school.

These figures do not surprise civil activist Safaa Daoud, who believes they are likely even higher than the announced number. She attributes this sharp increase to “the tough circumstances the country is facing. The blame falls on the government and its neglect of the youth, which caused many to lose hope, and this increase in suicide comes from a common reaction in countries that are undergoing security, political or economic crises, such as Iraq.”

Camps for internally displaced persons - Yazidi displacement camps in particular - have witnessed an increase in the number of suicides. In this regard, Yazidi activist Faisal Malko Fandi attributes this current rise to the “psychological and living conditions that the displaced are experiencing within the camps, where it is impossible to return to their destroyed homes, and they’re forced to live under plastic tents for years, far from government and humanitarian support.”

Speaking to Raseef22, Fandi points out that “the work of awareness and psychiatric treatment centers in the camps is weak. They could have lessened the blow of this crisis if they had been able to help the people face everything they had gone through in the past years.”

 Iraq is currently witnessing an increase in suicide rates - with 772 suicides during 2021, 109 more cases than 2020 with adolescents taking the lead with 36% of the total number of suicide cases

Karrar Jassem, a social activist in the Iraqi al-Amal Association, believes that family problems have a notable impact on this crisis. Speaking to Raseef22, he listed some of these issues, such as “parents pressuring their children to get high scores at school, and forcing girls to get married in arranged marriages, or in what is called a ‘fasliya marriage’ where females are married off as compensation for resolving tribal conflicts in rural communities.”

In many cases, society, social conditions, customs, and traditions are the main cause of suicide, but this same society, according to Jassem, “rejects suicide due to the religious labels of ‘halal’ and ‘haram’ without addressing its causes, especially when it comes to girls’ suicide, which is usually labeled to have been committed in the name of honour.”

Accordingly, social researcher at the Ministry of Labor, Ahmad al-Nuaimi, describes this as a paradoxical matter, “as society condemns suicide without fighting its causes or reasons, and considers it an overreaction that results from a personal or genetic defect.”

He explains to Raseef22 that “this category (of people who condemn suicide) is aware of the social pressures people are under, but still continues to accuse those who commit suicide with insanity. They argue that they too go through the same circumstances without contemplating suicide, ignoring how each person has different levels of patience and tolerance.” He notes that, “The existing defect is not in rejecting suicide, but in normalizing and living with its causes without seeking to address or solve them. People are always trying to hide this escalating crisis, and then neglect its causes.”

If one of its members commits suicide, an Iraqi family would try to cover up the incident for fear of its consequences. Otherwise, it’ll be socially isolated within its own environment, according to al-Nuaimi, and many would refuse to have their children marry into this family.

 Those who seek treatment from specialists are still ostracized by society and are accused of insanity, which causes them to hide their stress and psychological pressure

On the other hand, psychiatrist Abdul Amir al-Rubaie, states that 90% of Iraqi society suffers from social and psychological diseases. He bases his opinion on the isolation that the current society is facing, “which is one of the most prominent signs of depression. Despite this, society still rejects those who seek professional help and accuses them of insanity, which causes people to hide their stress and psychological pressure, in line with society.”

According to al-Rubaie, this leads to an accumulation of emotional stress, which turns into severe personality disorders, depression, and isolation, finally manifesting in suicide or aggressive behavior. He confirms to Raseef22, “Some take antidepressants and medication provided by pharmacies, which leads to addiction and psychosis that induces patterns of suicidal behavior, self-harm, and hyper anxiety if taken in large doses without medical consultation.”

“If these rates continue to rise, this will push Iraq to the top of the list of countries with the highest suicide rates,” and in al-Rubaie’s opinion, solutions “begin with changing society’s view of mental treatment, through awareness campaigns in media, and implementing state psychological support programs within schools and universities, like in developed countries.”

It is said that stray bullets snatch the lives of the innocent, without taking into account the dangers of thoughtless criticism against those in dire need of mental care, in a country filled with crises that seemingly continue to persist without an end in sight.

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