How taking one's own life is a solution? - stories and stats from Armenia
Suicide in Armenia
Around 900,000 people worldwide commit suicide each year. According to statistics, the number of suicides in Armenia has increased in recent years, especially after the 2020 war; in the last decade the number of suicides per year ranged from 150 to 215.
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“It happened because of love”
In a small bedroom of the Karapetyans’ house, there is much to remind one of happiness. A large photo of newlyweds hangs on the wall, the bed is carefully made, Lilith’s perfume and a small jewelry box are on the dressing table. There is not a speck of dust in the room; mother-in-law cleans up every day. Nothing has changed after the deaths of Armen and Lilith.
A story reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedy is now a permanent feature of the village of Artsvanist in the Gegharkunik region.
“It happened because of love.” This is how the suicide of 23-year-old Lilith is explained in the village. Her husband, Armen, died in September 2022 during the war in Karabakh. It hadn’t been a year since they were married.
The couple dreamed of children. In the village the young couple’s relationship was considered an example for everyone. Lilith was a teacher, Armen was a soldier. They were happy, purposeful young people.
“Both grew up before our eyes, both from our village, from intelligent families. Everyone at school loved Lilith. After the death of Armen, of course, she changed a lot. Always sad. On the day of the funeral, Lilith tried to commit suicide by overdosing, but they saved her. She told her relatives: I will follow Armen anyway. And that’s just what she did” a neighbor says.
After the death of Armen, Lilith continued to live with her husband’s parents, but often visited her own. On November 12, 2022, she stayed overnight with them. In the morning her parents found Lilith in the bathroom; she had hanged herself.
War veterans are at risk
The Prosecutor General’s Office conducted a study, which found that “a number of suicides and suicide attempts recorded in the recent period are directly related to the psychological problems caused by the 2020 war.”
Not only those who saw war experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as insomnia and hallucinations. Members of their families – wives, children, parents – are also at risk for various reasons associated with the loss of their fathers, husbands and brothers.
Considering all factors, the Prosecutor General’s Office turned to the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs with a proposal
- “discuss the current situation with professional circles involved in solving psychological problems,
- provide more effective psychological and psychiatric assistance to combatants and their families,
- expand the range of mental health services provided.”
Psychiatrist and lecturer at the Department of Psychiatry of the State Medical University Aram Mamikonyan says:
“There is an interesting feature associated with wars. During wartime, there is a sharp drop in the number of suicides in all countries of the world, because during wartime the idea of social cohesion arises.
This phenomenon of social cooperation creates harmony, there are fewer isolated people, society becomes more open, because everyone is trying to overcome one problem. We see a completely different picture with the end of wars, especially in countries that have suffered defeat. Loss becomes a very strong trigger for an increase in the number of suicides. Approximately the same picture is observed during revolutions.
Age, sex, reasons
According to statistics, unemployed men and pensioners most often commit suicide in Armenia. Vulnerable groups are also
- middle aged men,
- aged people,
- those held in closed institutions such as prisons,
- cultural minorities, including members of the LGBT community.
The main cause of suicide in adolescence is an existential crisis that is not controlled by professionals, family or environment, and adolescents are left alone with problems they do not understand. The second most common cause is drug use, which has risen in recent years.
In the case of the elderly, the age crisis also becomes the cause of suicide, when, after retirement, people lose a comfortable communication environment, a well-functioning life schedule, the opportunity to be financially independent and a sense of usefulness.
70% of suicides in Armenia are committed by men, whereas women are more likely to attempt suicide.
Why do people commit suicide?
“In psychiatry suicide is viewed as a pathology. And it doesn’t matter whether the person who committed suicide or attempted suicide was previously diagnosed with mental problems or not,” psychiatrist Aram Mamikonyan says.
The American Psychological Association has included this phenomenon in the classification of diseases as suicidal conduct disorder.
“This pathology is self-directed aggressive behavior in which a person has a clear goal of committing suicide. At the same time, it is immaterial whether its action will end with death or not. A person can be saved, an attempt can be prevented, or they may simply not be able to carry out their plan. The end goal is essential,” the psychiatrist explains.
Mamikonyan says that in the case of suicide, we often deal with “comorbidity”, when one disease is due to the presence of another or makes the body more vulnerable to a second disease. In the case of suicides, depressive spectrum disorders are the most common primary illness. That is, the suicide rate among people with depression is much higher.
“In fact, the process goes in stages. First, a person has passive suicidal thoughts: a feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, lack of motivation, loss of the meaning of life. The second stage is active suicidal thoughts, when there is not only this feeling, desire, but also a clear plan is drawn up.
The third stage, the most dangerous, is called the trap stage, when suicide becomes the only and best way out for a person. The trap is that for a person at this stage, death becomes the light at the end of the tunnel,” the doctor says.
A doctor’s opinion
Aram Mamikonyan says there is a common stereotype about suicide that after several failed attempts, they will stop. According to Mamikonyan in fact, among those who have committed suicide, the number of those who have made one or more unsuccessful attempts in the past predominates.
“We often confuse self-harm with suicidal behavior. Sometimes patients say that they just wanted to see blood at that moment, relax, or harm themselves and calm down, but their ultimate goal is not death. In this case, yes, there are usually no retries.
But in the case of suicide, the likelihood that someone will repeat their step is very high. So people who have attempted suicide are immediately at risk. It is very important that psychologists and psychiatrists are involved in the treatment of these people.”
According to Mamikonyan, at the heart of suicide is always a bitter sense of loss. This is not only about relationships, but also, for example, loss of work, a familiar environment, and so on.
In any case, according to the doctor, it is possible to prevent suicide.
That is why the National Suicide Prevention Plan is being developed in Armenia. The preventative measures included therein have already proved effective.
Suicide in Armenia