Columns EN

On Turkey’s Recent Mass-Suicide News

For the last two weeks in Turkey, three families have committed suicide with cyanide and ended their lives. It was shown that the common cause of these three family dramas is ‘lack of money’. Is it true that every debtor, every poor or desperate person commits suicide? Or vice versa, no matter how deep we sink, does the instinct for life prevail? Let’s have a look…

Last week, two families committed suicide with cyanide in Istanbul and Antalya which gave Turkey a deep shock. When we could not get over this annoying news, a new news came to our agenda only days ago. In Bakırköy, a nuclear family of three ended their lives with the same method. That left many questions that must be answered and many discussions. In this article, as a mental health specialist, I will make a detailed analysis starting from suicide statistics to the causes of suicide and the effects of media on suicide.

According to Turkstat, in 2018 there were 3,151 dead people due to commit suicide. In other words, approximately 4 out of 100,000 people committed suicide in 2018. So, what was the reason that killed 3,151 people?

The causes of suicide can be grouped as psychological, sociological, economic and genetic reasons. Sometimes a single reason can be enough for a suicide attempt. However, sometimes two or more of these reasons can be found at the same time for a suicide attempt. Psychological reasons include psychosis or major depression; sociological reasons include the fact that the person is excluded from the society he/she lives in. For example, think about transsexual individuals! And the challenges they face with… Among the economic reasons, as mentioned in these three families, borrowing and to get into debt can be shown as example. Also, in many studies conducted in the field of family, twins, adoption, the relationship between genetics and suicidal behavior was highlighted.

Let’s go back to our agenda and focus on three families. The common problem of all three families, as far as I follow from the media, is that they have been struggling with economic difficulties for a long time. Can we see their economic difficulties as a simple reason for suicide? Both, yes and no. After reading the rest of the article, you will decide.

Let’s start with those who say “No”. That is, those who do not connect the cause of suicides to the economy. In Turkey, it is claimed that more than 16 million people are in the hunger threshold and more than 48 million people have also been struggling for survival under the poverty line. If we just attribute the cause of the deaths of these three families to ‘economic’ problems, these 16 million people would have to commit suicide, right? But they are still alive. Or let me give you another example. Let’s look at Norway, where I live. One of the richest and most prosperous countries in the world. Norway has a population of 5 million 328 thousand as of 2019, and as of 2017, 593 people committed suicide and lost their lives. With simple mathematics, assuming that the population of Norway is 82 million, 9,126 people must have committed suicide. So far three times the suicide rate in Turkey! What about the social welfare or prosperousness in Norway?  So, can this simple rate-proportion rule tell us that suicides cannot be based solely on economic reasons?

Now, let’s continue with those who say “Yes” and let us listen to their arguments. As I mentioned in my earlier article called ‘Joker – A Masterpiece of a Danger? From the Biopsychosocial Model’, human is the product of a ‘biopsychosocial’ system. In other words, we are the product of a genetic, psychological, social and economic system that causes us to commit or not commit a crime/an offensive, to commit or not to commit suicide and to make different decisions between the same conditions. While this system sometimes executes our defense mechanisms and protects us by this way; the deterioration of one or more parts of this system (e.g. the economic pillar) can weaken us. Sometimes, this deterioration can make us a criminal like the Joker, and sometimes it can leave us desperate like those families who see suicide as a solution. On the contrary, a man who lives on the street and in need of dry bread or a woman who has escaped from a war and been living in refugee camps for years can choose to live. Life or death! At this point, no matter how bad their economy is, their personality traits, their attitudes towards life, how much support they receive from their social environment, the society they live in and their genetic predisposition come into play.

When we come back to these three families again, although it seems ‘economic’ to choose suicide, if these people had different personality traits or beliefs, they might have chosen to live. Or, on the contrary, if the income distribution in the country they live in was equal; if they had social security against unemployment; if there were social welfare systems to prevent poverty; three families would probably be living right now. It depends on where we look.

Finally, I would like to briefly discuss the effect of the media on these suicide cases. As mentioned in the statement of Turkish Psychiatry Association last week, the fact that the suicide news is dramatized in full detail and presented with visual elements has negative effects on suicidal people. Speaking for myself, it is not a coincidence that all three families committed suicide with ‘cyanide’ in the same way. The fact that the issue of cyanide has come up on the agenda and that it is so easily accessible! – which is a question mark – can encourage incitement for suicidal people. A person who is already a suicidal-thinker, can easily be influenced by the news in the media and choose the same way without much consideration. By saying “They have the same conditions as me, so I’ll go their way”, he/she can convince himself/herself more easily to death. Because he/she takes reference this news; because he/she identifies himself/herself with those families because he/she cannot think healthy. At this point, the media needs to be a little more careful.