Suicide and Armenia

With the increase of population, suicide rates increase as well. Reasons can be different but not unique. In the 1800s when France went through industrial revolution Émile Durkheim, one of the founders of modern sociology, noticed that the relatively new economic system along with being very productive also drove people to suicide. In 1897 Durkheim published the first book of the methodological study of the social fact Suicide. Durkheim’s findings show that suicide rates grow, once the country has become industrialized. In other words, when the consumer capitalism starts to effect, people become susceptible to mental distress, which in its turn leads to suicide.

from The School of Life

Durkheim points out in his book several social factors that can drive people to suicide. He states that with the rise of capitalism, people have become more individualistic, family structure has been weakening and people have been provided with choices. In the case of making the right choice people are rewarded, in the case of making a wrong choice people are lost. Capitalism gives people choice and choices itself give people hopes. High hopes can mentally exhaust a person.

Durkheim noted that we all have tendencies to feel grief and sorrow but sometimes we perceive them as a sign of failure, which in fact is a fair response to difficult human conditions. Another issue that Durkheim brings is that people are not as collective as they were before. Things like family and religion have started to lose their values in people’s lives. Since they are not shared experiences, people often don’t bother with other’s issues. This brings isolation and the feelings of being misunderstood.

According to Durkheim, different types of suicide are driven by different social factors. There are four categories:

from The School of Life

Altruistic Suicide: As the word suggests itself, altruistic suicide occurs when people no longer care about their individual needs. It is highly associated with people at military service, and those who are a follower of a particular cult which may demand sacrifices.

Egoistic Suicide: This type of suicide occurs when people who feel detached and isolated from the community. Those people feel lost and disconnected.

Anomic Suicide: This type of suicide occur as a result of a major incident. People who lose their place in society. The most common example is when a wealthy person loses all their money.

Fatalistic Suicide: This type of suicide occurs when a person feels that they lost their freedom, who feel trapped in society. For them, death is more desirable than living.

From a sociological point of view, Durkheim did a great job of identifying the reasons and types of suicide for his time. However, Durkheim mainly analyzed suicide phenomenon in newly industrialized Europe. Also, he mainly focused on Catholics and Protestant’s suicide rates, because other communities did not share or shared very little information about suicide. Still, Durkheim gives us the framework of suicide, which is relevant in every country.

Moving from 19th Century France to 21st Century Armenia

Specialists claim that the rate of suicide in Armenia is low compared to other countries. According to the World Health Organization in 2015 Armenia was in 152nd place of 183 listed countries.

Based on the numbers that Statistical Committee of the Republic of Armenia provide for suicide rate in Armenia, we can see that the number of suicide attempts is almost twice higher than the number of people who committed suicide (see the graph on the left.) 
Ministry of Emergency Situations of the Republic of Armenia claims that the number of people in Armenia who commit suicide decreases every year. However, they do not report why those numbers are decreasing. One of the reasons can be emigration. According to the estimates of “Return and protection” social — legal NGO, each year 35.000 people leave Armenia, however, in 2016 the number had increased by 2000. “Return and protection” notes that 47 percent of emigrants are migrant workers and 53 percent are people who leave the country without having no intentions of coming back. The migration age in Armenia is 25 to 54.

The ratio of men committing suicide is three times higher in the world than of women. In Armenia more than 70 percent of people who commit suicide are men. The study “Interpersonal Suicide Risk and Ideation: The Influence of Depression and Social Anxiety” published in 2011 in Journal Of Social And Clinical Psychology found that men with lower income tend to experience depression and social anxiety more than women. Even though social anxiety does not have much of an impact on suicide ideation, depression on the other hand, has a greater impact. People who experience depression are more likely to commit suicide than people who don’t.

Psychologist and suicide expert Kamo Vardanyan says that the depression and the loss of interest in life are the two main signs of suicide ideation.

According to Vardanyan, in Armenia suicide rate is higher among men aged 30 to 65, it exceeds the rate of women over 40 percent. Also, 50 percent of men who commit suicide don’t have jobs. This shows again that men with lower income experience depression more than women. Also, this explains why the suicide rate in Armenia is decreasing. As many people leave the country for finding a job and having in mind the fact that the emigration rate has increased, we can say that not having a job is highly related to suicide in Armenia.

In many countries, but especially in Armenian, non-working men can feel more pressure than non-working women. One of the reasons is that in most Armenian families, men are responsible for financially supporting their families, while women are usually responsible for taking care of the house and children. Also, in many Armenian families, it would not be “manly” for a husband to let his wife work, which usually ends up women quitting their jobs. Having the sole responsibility of a financial provider for two or more people can be difficult. And when men, due to some reasons become unable to provide for their families, it makes them feel less “manly” which can lead to depression.
Also, another study “Men’s depression: Endorsed experiences and expressions” published in the Journal of Psychology Of Men & Masculinity suggests that men experience depression differently than women, which could be the cause of attempting and committing suicide. It says that “men’s subjective perceptions and experiences of depression are not always recognized as depression and that men fail to recognize their own distress as depression that warrants treatment.”

Despite the fact that the rate of men committing suicide is three times higher in the world than of women, studies show that women are more likely to attempt suicide than men. According to psychotherapist Madlena Arakelova, some women consider attempting suicide “in order to achieve some social nuances,” such as getting someone else’s attention, etc. It is not about ending their lives, or escaping from it, but rather showing that they are capable of doing that act.

Doctor Arakelova classifies her patients in three categories. First are women, who have difficult relationships with their partners and family. Second are also women, who have mental health disorders, and the third are men.

Another study published again in 2011, “Gender Differentiation in Methods of Suicide Attempts” finds that suicide attempts made by males involve a higher risk of death than females. The study was conducted among people who attempted suicide by different methods and were admitted to hospitals. According to it, male subjects, more frequently used hanging and asphyxia, while, females were tended to choose pharmacological drugs overdose and exsanguination as the suicide method. Chances of surviving from a drug overdose or exsanguination, usually cutting the veins, are much higher than chances of surviving from hanging or asphyxia. Men tend to choose more violent methods that will immediately lead to death than women.

In Armenia, the methods of suicide do not vary much. Two most common ways are hanging and jumping off heights. Gunshots are the less prevalent method, since guns are not available to regular citizens.

Reporting About Suicide

With the increase of popularity of Social Media, many news agencies in Armenia has started to report on ongoing situations intensively. News agencies have started to occasionally report about suicide.

Numerous studies proved that after suicide coverage, especially if the suicide was committed by a famous person, the numbers of people committing suicide dramatically increase. Thus, the World Health Organization, along with suicide prevention and public health organizations, internet safety organizations, schools of journalism and media organizations, have developed a guideline for responsible reporting on suicide.

Here are some Don’t and Do’s about reporting on suicide:

DON’T put big or sensationalistic headlines, or prominent placement (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide”). Do inform the audience without sensationalizing the suicide and minimize prominence (e.g., “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27”).

DON’T include photos/videos of the location or method of death, grieving family, friends, memorials, or funerals. Do use school/work or family photo; include hotline logo or local crisis phone numbers.

DON’T describe a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.” Do include the “Warning Signs” and “What to Do” sidebar in your article if possible.

DON’T say that “John Doe left a suicide note saying…” Do say that “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”

DON’T investigate and report on suicide similarly to reporting on crimes. Do report on suicide as a public health issue. *The whole list you can find here

Some of the Armenian media organizations don’t follow this guideline.

This is a report from Tert.am. The headline says “In Lori, a citizen committed suicide, a note has been discovered.” Then in the article, it mentions the content of that note. “Near the body, a note has been discovered, which says that living is meaningless and he knows that he is doing a bad thing.” In the fourth paragraph, it describes the method of suicide. It says that the citizen “hanged himself in the balcony from the metal pillar by using a rope,” and they put a picture of the rope, which makes it even more descriptive. Tert am, is one of the well-known internet news outlets in Armenia. Unfortunately, this whole report does not follow the rules of responsible reporting. But Tert.am is not the only news outlet which does that.

On the left is the article from shamshyan.com, which is again one of the most well-known news outlets in Armenia. The headline says the following: “the 31-year-old man who yesterday committed suicide in Yerevan was the relative of Hovhannes Tamanyan, who was the ex general-mayor of the Ararat region Police” Later in this piece it says that the relatives and friends of A. Abrahamyan(a person who committed suicide) were surprised when they heard the news about suicide. After, the reporter describes the details of suicide. “Around 7 pm, in Arabkir district on Mamikonyac street, a resident of 8a building, 31-year-old Arsen A. committed suicide by jumping from the 9th-floor window of the same building.” This report simultaneously ignores several guidelines. First, it says that the friends and relatives of that man were surprised by that act. It creates a sense that the person was perfectly fine, but one day he decides to jump from such height and end his life. Second, the style of this reporting is similar to reporting on crimes. It even mentions the time of suicide and the exact location. 
The article on the right side is from “Aravot” daily newspaper, which is citing another report from shamshyan.com. This report is not as detailed as the previous one; however, it again mentions the exact location of suicide. The headline says, “Suicide in Yerevan: a 23-year-old young man jumped from the Kievyan Bridge.” Later in this report, it says that the police officers have arrived at the place of the event and found the body of a young boy. The style of this report is again similar to reporting on crimes, rather than reporting about a mental health issue.

The last one is from Joxovurd daily newspaper aka armlur.am. The headline says “A 70-year old man has shot himself on the left side of his chest” They also included a picture of the weapon. It is not clear whether it was the same weapon used by that man or not, but the fact is that this picture shows the objects the man used for committing suicide. The headline is again very sensational and descriptive. According to the guideline for responsible reporting on suicide, these reports do not follow many of those rules. Not one of these news outlets ever mentions about mental health issues. Not one of these outlets ever mentioned about prevention techniques. And, not one of these outlets ever spoke to a psychologist. It seems that these outlets have no clue that suicide is a public health problem. It seems that one-day people wake up and decide to kill themselves. As Kamo Vardanyan says, there is always a sign of depression or any other mental disturbance that can be noticed in people who are considering about suicide. Not to report about it, puts many people at risk of misunderstanding the seriousness of mental health. Some people see it as a sign of weakness, and some might even perceive it as a sin because of their religious beliefs.

Lilit Baghdasaryan, the head of “ANTISUICIDE” center says that it is necessary to conduct trainings for media outlets on responsible reporting. In this video, Baghdasaryan tells about the center and gives several pieces of advice to media outlets.

Armenian news outlets need to understand that if they describe how the suicide happened, some people might actually try to attempt it using the same exact methods. It is the responsibility of news agencies to report about suicides appropriately.

However, for some people not only reports about suicides but the negative content in news in general, can cause some mental disturbance.

You only hear the negative and aggressive content in the news. All these bad information accumulates inside you, and then… there is no exit from that. (Suicide Survivor)

However, the problem is not the negative content, the problem is how that negative content is being reported.

Prevention

In Armenia, there are not enough centers that can help people with mental health problems. In most cases, people who cannot afford competent psychologists are sent to mental wards where they don’t receive proper treatments and might stay there until the end of their lives. The idea that mental health is equally important as physical health is still developing in Armenia. Fortunately, centers like “ANTISUICIDE” are working to increase awareness of these issues, but the problem of those centers is that they do not have enough funding to work on a broader scale.
Kamo Vardanyan says that one of the most important elements in suicide prevention is the government. He claims that despite the qualified professionals, we need government support to achieve certain results.

In this video, Kamo Vardanyan along with Madlena Arakelova and Lilit Baghdasaryan, talk about suicide prevention strategies that should be implemented in the society.

As Durkheim said, the industrial revolution along with capitalism increased the rates of depression and suicide in the world. Times have changed, but capitalism still remains in our society.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a common mental disorder in the world. In Armenia, 40 percent of the population has a low-level depression, based on 2016 report of National Institutes of Health. The report also noted that 2.9 percent has a medium-level of depression, and only 0.1 percent suffers from severe depression. However, they had noted that for sociological research the methodology requires not to conduct interviews with people who suffer from mental health illnesses. Also, they noted that usually people who suffer from severe depression are not prone to talk with interviewers. Thus, they noted that the percentage of severe depression is much higher than the official reports suggest.

As Durkheim mentioned in his book, things like family and religion have started to lose their values in our lives; people are more independent now than they were before. Even in Armenia, where family considered to be the highest value, many people now prefer to be less collective and more individualistic. Also, the factor of shame still plays a great role in Armenian families. People do not talk about depression or anxiety, and they do not want even to consider to seek help. If we ignore depression and communicate less with people about our emotional state, it will most likely transform into a much worse state and lead to suicide.
Of course, it is almost impossible to eliminate depression or suicide. However, we must not ignore the fact that we need to raise awareness in Armenia about those issues and make people realize that it is not shameful to talk about their emotional state. We can’t deny the fact that we need more qualified professionals in Armenia, who will be able to provide better help to those who need it.

Meri Hovnanyan

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How to get help

📞Suicide Hotline Numbers in Armenia: +374 10 538194 , +374 10 538197

📞 Emergency Situation Hotline in Armenia: 112 or 911