Losing all hope: Graffiti depicting a would-be-suicide. (photo: Wikimedia Commons / Eduard Maluquer)
From Monday evening this week until Tuesday morning, the police in Dhi Qar recorded five different suicide attempts. Four of the attempted suicides did not succeed in their deadly mission. A 43-year-old woman trying to jump off a bridge and another 22-year-old woman who tried to immolate herself were prevented from doing so; two young men were also saved by police. But one 50-year-old man, who had worked as an engineer in the provincial water works, managed to hang himself in his own home.
It was a record number of attempted suicides in one day, the local police reported. And that’s in the province that holds the record for the highest number of suicides in Iraq.
There has been a big increase in rates of suicide among Iraqis since 2013, Iraq’s Human Rights Commission has pointed out. They attribute that rise to the conditions in the country, saying that lack of security, displacement, an economic downturn and social conflicts are leading to an increase in psychological problems and depression; basically Iraqis have lost hope, they say.
And the issue of suicide is worst in Dhi Qar. There were 119 suicides in the province over the past two years, the Commission said, making it the highest rate in the country, excluding Iraqi Kurdistan.
The local police say they have recorded 92 suicides and 72 attempts during 2015 and the first three months of 2016, for people aged between 15 and 35. Dhi Qar is home to around 2 million people.
It is also highly likely that the suicide rate for Iraq, which ranks very low on the global scale of suicides per country, is actually also far higher. Suicide is generally considered a sin in Islam and is also socially unacceptable and death notices never tell the truth. They always simply say that the person “died in an unfortunate accident”.
There are all sorts of sad stories doing the rounds in Dhi Qar. The 16-year-old girl who hanged herself in an animal feed room, a 19-year-old woman who hanged herself with her own headscarf, a 22-year-old nurse who burned herself to death in the courtyard of her house and the 53-year-old man who shot himself in the head in February this year.
A source inside the Dhi Qar police department, who wished to remain anonymous because they were not supposed to comment to media, said that the local police also often rescued individuals trying to drown themselves in the Euphrates River or who had jumped off local bridges. This included a man in his 70s from the Mansouriya area, the source noted.
“At first the police always deal with a potential suicide as though it was a criminal offence,” the source explained. “The police investigate forensic evidence and look into motives. At times, the possible suicide must be investigated further by other departments to ensure there has been no criminal wrong doing.”
“There are many reasons for the increase in the suicide rate in the province,” Adel al-Dukhili, the deputy governor of Dhi Qar, told NIQASH. “At the top of the list are family problems and economic problems and then there are also new social phenomena.”
Rafed Rasoul, a local psychologist, explains further. He thinks that sometimes young people living in remote areas, where there are very strict rules and social traditions, are able to find out about other ways of life through social media or other modern communication. “Feelings of despair and loneliness, an inability to accept the lifestyle one has, can increase,” Rasoul argues. “Especially if individuals cannot find an outlet for those feelings.”
Many of the suicides occur in more remote parts of Dhi Qar, Rasoul notes.
Domestic violence, depression, social alienation, unemployment and cognitive dissonance resulting from the current political situation in Iraq – these are the main causes of suicide, according to research conducted by Abdulbari al-Hamdani, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Dhi Qar.
“Most of the women who try to kill themselves do it to put an end to their suffering or to hide a scandal that could tarnish their family’s reputation,” al-Hamdani notes. “Young men kill themselves because of failure at school, loss of a job or family disintegration. Drugs also have a harmful impact.”
The reasons for a young person’s suicide can also be very personal, notes Uday Shabib, who heads the University of Dhi Qar’s sociology department. “It has to do with their own personalities and how they deal with their circumstances,” Shabib says.
This may well apply to a recent, sad case involving an 18-year-old student, Mustafa. He was a brilliant student from a well-off family and was doing well at school. His friends and family were shocked and horrified when he hanged himself for apparently no obvious reason.
“Often parents don’t know what goes in their children’s lives,” says Mustafa’s uncle, a doctor at Hussein Educational Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah.