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Morocco's “culture of death”.. Disturbing numbers reveal the spread of suicide

Morocco's “culture of death”.. Disturbing numbers reveal the spread of suicide

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Friday 18 November 202201:21 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

"ثقافة الموت" وتفشّي ظاهرة الانتحار في المغرب… أرقام مقلقة ومنظومة صحية ضعيفة

"I'll just hang myself and be rid of you all”, "The only solution is death", "I am going to burn myself", or "Lord, I’d rather die than live a life of humiliation"... These are some of the morbid phrases and sentences that Moroccans suffering from life's hardships, and those who suffer from serious mental disorders, repeat on a regular basis, in the absence of any support or attention from their families. Words such as these indicate a type of mental breakdown or 'burn out', and reflect the spread of the "culture of suicide" in the Moroccan society. These phrases are repeated the most by the youth then the elderly in the country, the employed and unemployed, doctors and security officials, and by men and women alike. Everyone equally promotes these lethal ideas and this deadly phenomenon that's become widespread in a society that looks at those who commit suicide with disdain and contempt because of religious beliefs that view suicide as a major sin, and state that “a person who commits suicide is punished with what he/she has done the deed with”. This causes shame and stigma to haunt the families and relatives of people who commit suicide.

What are the reasons for the rise in suicide rates in Morocco? Why has suicide now been able to permeate and sink its deathly claws into all segments of society and age groups? Are Morocco's structures and frameworks capable of combating this phenomenon? Is there any interest or concern for the psychological and mental health of citizens in Morocco?

The second Arab country in suicide

The World Health Organization and the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) revealed in their latest report released on World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10), that more than 700 thousand people die worldwide due to suicide every year. It states that for every 20 people who attempt suicide, one person actually succeeds in doing so, and that 77% of suicides in the world occur in low- and middle-income countries.

According to the same report, the fourth leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 20 years is suicide, and millions of people close to those who have committed suicide suffer from intense grief and severe cases of depression, due to suicidal behavior carried out by others around them. For this reason, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) called for the need to unite efforts and work collectively in order to combat the phenomenon of suicide, and reduce it by at least one-third by 2030.

"I'll just hang myself and be rid of you all”, "The only solution is death", "I am going to burn myself", or "Lord, I'd rather die than live a life of humiliation".. These are some of the morbid phrases that many Moroccans repeat on a regular basis

As for Morocco, estimates by the World Health Organization indicate that it is one of the countries recording high rates of suicide in the Middle East and North Africa region, as the suicide rate rose to 7.2 per 100,000 inhabitants. This rate reaches 9.7 per 100,000 inhabitants among males, compared to 4.7 per 100,000 inhabitants among females, making Morocco second in rank after Egypt in the list of Arab countries in terms of suicide rates. Saudi Arabia ranks third, followed by Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Syria, and Libya.

In view of this report, and a previous report by the World Bank, Morocco's figures in suicide mortality rates are very worrying, especially since these numbers exceed the death rates of organic diseases such as cancer and AIDS, and even surpass countries that are witnessing ongoing wars and conflicts, such as Yemen and Libya.

A weak health system

In this regard, Faisal Tahari, a specialist in clinical psychotherapy, says in a statement to Raseef22, that the number of suicides is constantly on the rise all over the world, and the World Health Organization has previously announced that one person commits suicide every fifteen seconds in the world, and the causes of suicide are due to the fact that "the mental and psychological health system in many countries is very weak and worn out, if not completely non-existent in third world countries. Many countries still do not have a health system for organic diseases, and even incurable diseases, such as cancer, the AIDS virus, and other serious diseases. Infants in these countries are still unable to receive the necessary vaccinations, which paves the way for psychological and mental disorders to seep in, especially depression which has becomes widespread among citizens, in addition to mood disorders, which leads to the emergence of dark suicidal thoughts, then attempts to implement these thoughts in reality, and eventually a successful suicide is committed."

Tahari explains that "the reason for the high rates of suicides in Morocco is due to the weak mental and psychological health system, because there are many regions that still lack mental health facilities, hospitals, doctors, or psychiatrists, and on top of all this, a large segment of society still resorts to treating mental disorders and diseases through 'spiritual healing', witchcraft and sorcery due to a lack of awareness, which leads to the late diagnosis of mental illnesses such as depression, and therefore it becomes more difficult to treat the patient, who often ends up committing suicide."

"The reason for the high rates of suicides in Morocco is due to the weak mental and psychological health system, because there are many regions that still lack mental health facilities, hospitals, doctors, or psychiatrists”

Tahari adds that among the main reasons that push people in Morocco to commit suicide are the pressures of social and economic life, especially with the exponential rise in prices, and the effects of a two-year pandemic. These effects can still be seen to this day, having cast a shadow on the deterioration of human health, especially among the medical and security staff who were on the frontlines in confronting this pandemic.

The spread of suicide culture

For his part, Abd Rabbu al-Bakhsh, a sociological researcher working on suicide in Morocco, especially in the north, believes that the rise in suicides around the world is caused by the spread of mental illness, which remains the most direct and main factor in the exacerbation of this phenomenon. The same reason applies to Morocco, especially as it is witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of mental illnesses and addiction to both organic and synthetic drugs.

Al-Bakhsh confirms in a statement to Raseef22 that, "The phenomenon of suicide is flourishing in Morocco, and is linked to the social, economic, political, and cultural transformations that the country is witnessing, and to a range of other phenomena such as irregular migration, violent extremism, and crime. The common denominator between these phenomena is the concept of death and its belittling. The more death is less feared, the more individuals are driven to commit suicide in various forms and for different motives."

A child may hear suicidal phrases and see them as a way out of various problems, circumstances, and hardships that afflict a person in this life. As a result, this idea may occupy his mind and he'll think of suicide or even do it as a minor or an adult

The researcher points out that the phenomenon of suicide goes beyond the components of age, gender, and social and economic levels. It's a sort of "culture" that is being passed from one generation to the next, subconsciously and through the channels of social conditioning and upbringing. For example, when a father, mother, or adult brother shouts in a moment of anger, weakness, or defeat in front of a child, phrases such as, "I will hang myself"; "May God take our souls"; "I swear I’ll kill myself", this child will hear these phrases and see them as a way out of problems, circumstances, and hardships that afflict a person in this life. As a result, this idea may occupy his mind and he'll think of suicide or even do it as a minor or an adult.

He explains that by "suicide culture", he means that "there is a group of people who share among themselves a complex system of reactions, beliefs, ideas, representations, and patterns of behavior, through which they face the various obstacles that confront them in life. This system begins with absorbing the idea of suicide, then accepting this idea, and slowly becoming more inclined towards it. Then it ends with attempting suicide or actually succeeding in killing oneself."

Live and onscreen suicide

Despite the absence of accurate Moroccan figures on the number of suicides, this topic has become the talk of newspapers, websites, and news bulletins on an almost daily basis. Social media has become the best way for some people who wish to commit suicide to document this act. The latest such case was the self-immolation of a young man (19 years old) from the city of Casablanca, last March, who set himself on fire in a live broadcast on his Facebook page. Before this, he explained that he had been wronged when he was assaulted in a wholesale market by two people working there, an assault caused him to suffer from a health disability. The police did not do him justice and released his attackers, which made his sense of contempt and worthlessness worsen and led him to commit suicide.

At the beginning of last September, a Moroccan doctor committed suicide, as did a child in the city of Agadir. Also, a number of girls, who were raped and then forcibly married to their rapists to 'wash away' the shame of that heinous crime, found death to be their only way to final salvation. In addition, the strangely high suicide rates in the city of Chaouen in northern Morocco prompted some government representatives to raise the worrisome issue of suicide to officials in parliament. This comes after the High Commission for Planning (HCP), in a recent study on mental health in Morocco, sounded the alarm, saying that the country is witnessing a significant increase in many mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and panic attacks. This indicates that there is psychological distress and a stressful state that Moroccans are suffering from, and that will have dire consequences, and in turn cause cases of suicide to rise.

The concept of "absent" mental health

The rise in suicides in Morocco raises a question about the interest in mental health within Moroccan society, which sociologist Abd Rabbu al-Bakhsh says is "very weak, since neither the family, nor the school, nor health institutions have clear and declared strategies to work through in order to pay attention to mental health and prevent people from falling into mental or even physical illnesses. To this day, a large group within Moroccan society still does not believe in mental illness, but rather sees it as a form of witchcraft (sorcery, black magic...). The work of associations and institutions remains limited and is often isolated and ineffective, because we do not have an accurate scientific study capable of understanding the phenomenon and putting it in its precise quantitative and qualitative paths, especially since the phenomenon is complex. It is individualistic and collective at the same time, and requires multiple approaches whether biological, medical, sociological, psychological... etc."

He explains that suicide affects males and females, minors and adults, the poor and the rich, the educated and the illiterate. As long as a person feels deficient or like he/she has a void, it becomes more active as it feeds off this void and weakness within the darker areas of the psyche. Usually, "people who are inhabited by the idea of suicide are ones who, according to their experiences, are living through the most severe types of cruelty and suffering. They see themselves as victims of family, community, politics, society, or the government, and their existence is seen as a burden on existence itself. Therefore, the will to die and no longer be alive, no matter how cruel and harmful it is to their bodies, is seen as an outlet and salvation for their suffering. These individuals also often alienate and marginalize their bodies, since the body is the point of connection to life, and is what gives us our biological and human identity. The more we cling to it and love it, the more we relate to life and the will to live is strengthened within us, and vice versa.

Expensive and uninsured treatment

As for mental health specialist Faisal Tahari, he believes that psychological and mental health in Morocco is improving, but we still lack a lot of frameworks in psychiatry and psychotherapy, and specialists in psychopathology. There has been some development and rehabilitation in a group of old and worn-out hospitals, but shortages still exist in a society with a population of more than 40 million people. Reception facilities are few, medicines are expensive, and psychiatric therapy sessions are not compensated for those who have health insurance. This hinders the process of psychological treatment, and delays the process of most Moroccans being able to benefit from this right.

This is why Tahari calls for sensitizing citizens to the importance of psychological and mental health, facilitating access to treatment, encouraging people to go to doctors and therapists instead of 'spiritual healers', and allocating media segments to the importance of mental health — just like they do to organic diseases, such as cancer and AIDS — as well as celebrating World Mental Health Day.



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