Sickness or Symptom

Sickness or Symptom

Richard Davis

“Sickness or Symptom

By Richard Davis

Much of the response to Aotearoa New Zealand’s developing youth suicide tragedy is focused on the provision of mental health. I believe that this is unfortunate and is not addressing the real causes of the problem. Suicide is a very complicated problem and while there is no easy solution, I am confident that it will not be solved by money or by blaming the victims.To say that an individual’s mental health is the problem is ignoring the complex societal causes of suicide. People commit suicide for very many reasons, and while it may appear that one thing triggered such a response, there are probably many factors that run deeper than are usually acknowledged. When adversity strikes, many people can see no way out, and there is often little hope that can be found. People may feel alone and feel that no one understands, or that approaching others for help is a sign of weakness that one can’t make it in this world by one’s own efforts.

When people feel that they are odds with society we often say that they are mentally ill. It is the individual that must change or adapt to the needs of society. Those who feel there is no niche for them in society, perhaps because employment is hard to get, can feel that they need to change and adapt themselves to society. Society is right and they are wrong. The relationship between this and mental health is explained well by David Edwards in his book Free to be Human:

Rarely have psychotherapists sought the cause of neurosis in the economic and political system in which we live. Instead, the underlying premise has always been that the neurotic individual is dysfunctional and the industrial system ‘normal’; in other words that neurosis should be essentially defined by the inability of the individual to function ‘normally’ within that system.

Our economic and political system is becoming more individualistic and this a probable factor in increased suicides. The period since 1984 has seen both a dramatic rise in suicide rates and an increased reliance on individualistic markets, and with a weakening sense of community. It is interesting to recall the observations of French sociologist Emile Durkheim. His book Suicide: A Study in Sociology argued that suicide rates varied inversely with integration into society. He argued that,

Excessive individualism not only results in favouring the action of suicidogenic causes, but it is itself such a cause.

Where suicide is related to external factors, we can all help to prevent it through building a society where everyone can participate, and feel that they belong. What if we said that everyone can be welcome in the world, as Christ did? We must alter society for the needs of all people, rather than using mental health to force people to fit into a society that is at times dehumanising and degrading of the dignity God gave us. “