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Mental Health and Suicide, and the Western Modernism

Updated on July 31, 2020
Shahzaib Najmi profile image

The author is an English writer and social activist with an interest in socio-political and socio-moral issues.

Mental health problem and the contemporary world

  • Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the topic of mental health has gained a significant amount of public attention. Mental health has been a topic of least discussion in the past. Nobody wants – or dares – to talk about his/ her mental health issues.
  • The reason behind this reluctance can be identified if we try to apprehend our society’s outlook towards this conundrum. In today’s world where materialism – the brainchild of Western industrialists – has dominated every sphere of temporal life, emotionalism is gradually becoming a distant concept. The result is appearing in the form depression and anxiety.
  • Surprisingly, in the contemporary period, its affects have been hitherto most visible in the developed Western societies, the Us and Western Europe in particular. The most documented outcome of stress and mental illness has been the suicide - the intentional taking of one's own life.
  • One thing that must be noted here is that today's definition of Western world includes all those countries which are under the influence of western culture regardless of their geographical location. For instance, Australia and New Zealand are in the east but they are considered as the Western countries.

Fig 1. Anxiety disorder rates by region
Fig 1. Anxiety disorder rates by region | Source

"In much of the world, suicide is stigmatized and condemned for religious or cultural reasons. In some countries, suicidal behavior is a criminal offence punishable by law. Suicide is therefore often a secretive act surrounded by taboo, and may be unrecognized, misclassified or deliberately hidden in official records of death."

— World Health Organization (2002)

Western 'suicide dilemma' - A brief account of facts

  • The Us suicide rates rose 30.4 % between 1999 and 2015.
  • According to WHO, the suicide rate in the wealthy European nations is 15.4/100,000 persons; while in the poorest region on the planet Earth i.e. Africa, it is only 7.4 person/100,000 persons

  • Not a single European country except Austria was among the top 10 happiest countries according to a report issued by UN in 2019.
  • According to a recent survey, an increase in psychiatric visits has been observed in European countries.

Latest suicides by famous people clearly exhibit the fact that suicides are more dominant among the modernized and developed countries:

  • August Ames (2017), Canadian pornographic actress, hanged himself after severe depression.
  • Chester Bennington (2017 ) American lead singer of Linkin Park, killed himself by hanging.
  • Desmond Amofah (2019), an American internet personality, drowned himself after battling mental illness.
  • K-pop singer Goo Hara killed herself in 2019 after she could not cope with cyber stress.
  • Danny Frawly (2019), a former Australian broadcaster, killed himself in an intentional car accident.
  • Thomas Schaefer (2020), the finance minister of Germany’s Hesse state committed suicide after he could not cope with the stress of collapsing economy during the Covid-19 global lock down.

And the list goes on.

Not a single European country except Austria was among the top 10 happiest countries according to a report issued by UN in 2019.

Fig. 2. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, an American rock band
Fig. 2. Chester Bennington, the lead singer of Linkin Park, an American rock band
Fig. 3. Thomas Shafaer, the finance minister of Germany's Hesse state
Fig. 3. Thomas Shafaer, the finance minister of Germany's Hesse state

The reasons behind increasing suicide cases in the West - a religion-social perspective

The aforementioned abstract clearly exhibits one thing: suicide is not often directly linked with poverty. Then, what is it that is nurturing suicidal tendencies in the modern nations despite their high per capital incomes? The following reasons may shed some light on this question.

Lack of religious beliefs:

  • It would not be wrong to say that it is the hollowness of the Western culture that is one of the major reasons of this dismal propensity. It is superficial; its very core is deprived of religion.
  • After the Renaissance and Enlightenment Period, it became so much twisted with secularism over time after the decline of the authority of religious Church that today it considers religion as a hurdle in the path to progress. For the Western world, the church, mosque, temple and synagogue are of little or no use. They are moving forward only under the aegis of capitalism and materialism.
  • As a result, they have got no spiritual refuge whenever they face dejection and distress in life. Unlike a religion-oriented individual, a modern secularist does not turn to the spiritual guide to alleviate his/her stress; and faces it by compromising his/her mental health. Eventually, he/she falls prey to depression and commits the unthinkable.

Elimination of 'joint family system' and increase in divorce cases:

  • The relegation of the family system to ‘the single-couple arrangement’ has contributed greatly to the deterioration of mental health in the West.
  • The modern civilization has alienated the concept of ‘family’. Moreover, in the West, marriage is no longer considered a sacrosanct relation.
  • It has almost become a norm to have divorced parents there.
  • Being the pioneer of industrialization, the wave of feminism rose like a volcano in the West, that bitched up the male-female balance in the society. This led to an incessant increase in the marital dissatisfaction; eventually, a surging count of divorce cases.
  • Divorce wreaked havoc on the divorcees psychologically, and resulted in increased depression which is the ultimate root cause of suicides.

Fig. 4. Rise in religious non-affiliations in the US during 1986-2016
Fig. 4. Rise in religious non-affiliations in the US during 1986-2016 | Source
Fig. 5. Median values of suicide rates stratified by majority religion in 2015.
Fig. 5. Median values of suicide rates stratified by majority religion in 2015. | Source

World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10 every year.

Why the countries under the influence of Eastern culture have lower suicide rate?

  • In the Eastern world, suicide count is much less due to the dominance of religious beliefs.
  • Joint family system is the convention in almost every area.
  • Divorce is abhorred – treated more or less like a taboo.
  • Moreover, suicide is considered a sin in many religious spheres; and this stereotype has proved quite helpful in containing the suicide count.

Eastern countries under Western influence:

As described earlier, in contemporary world, the geographical location alone does not decides which country falls in the category of western world; rather it is based on the culture and norms prevailing in a country.

  • The Eastern countries (geographically) under the aegis of Western culture have been observed to have high suicide rates.
  • Two major Western allies in Asia, South Korea and Japan have significantly higher suicide rates in the region i.e. 31/100,000 persons and 24/100,000 persons, respectively.

Fig. 5. Age-standardized suicide mortality rates in Japan, South Korea and all OECD nations (averaged)
Fig. 5. Age-standardized suicide mortality rates in Japan, South Korea and all OECD nations (averaged) | Source

Concluding thoughts

  • The sole purpose of this brief critical appraisal is to inculcate in the minds of readers the seamy side of the Western civilization.
  • The scientific knowledge, research and innovation produced by the West are indeed laudable and must be embraced by all and sundry with an intention of making the world a better place to dwell; it is need of the hour.
  • However, cultural norms and values must not be compromised by complying with the Western modernism. The modern Western thought evolved on the base of wars with religious authorities during the Middle Ages; whereas the Eastern culture is the result of the willful obedience of society for the religion. Hence the amalgamation of both cultures will lead to nothing but depravity and perversion in the socio-moral setup of the Eastern society in the form of degeneration of mental health.

God be with you!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Shahzaib Najmi


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