William Shakespeare stated in his Hamlet: “To be or not to be that is the question.” Prince Hamlet made this statement as he engaged in self-talking (soliloquy). This statement asks whether it is beneficial to live in the world or not to live in the world. The ultimate goal of every sentient creature is to protect life from death. Life and death are what make us understand this world. “Life and death are interdependent; they exist simultaneously, not consecutively; death whirs continuously beneath the membrane of life and exerts a vast influence upon experience and conduct” (Yalom & Yalom, 1998). Every rational being fears to die. We construct hospitals, eat healthy food, drive safe cars and swallow bitter pills all in the name of surviving death.
Nonetheless, there is an intentional assisted suicide better known as euthanasia. Euthanasia which implies a painless killing of patients suffering from irreversible coma or disease is one of the major controversies in the field of abnormal psychology. Assisted suicide is illegal in many countries while some countries have legal frameworks to protect and defend it. In the Netherlands, Euthanasia is protected by the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act” (TLRASA). TLRASA states that Physicians assisting terminally ill to die are not punishable by law if they acted in accordance with the criteria of due care. Besides, in the State of Oregon, USA, The Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill Oregon residents to obtain and use prescriptions from their physicians for self-administered, lethal medications. Apart from the aforesaid few legalized Euthanasia, suicide is considered as a mental illness.
“A first-year Chemical Engineering student of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) has committed suicide, Joy News sources in Kumasi have confirmed. According to the sources, Adwoa Agyarka Anyimadu-Antwi, 18, took her life at the early hours of Friday in her hostel room with a rope” (Source: myjoyonline.com February 24, 2017). Every sentient creature fears to die and thus, anybody who kills or wants to kill himself/herself is a clear client for psychologists, psychotherapists and psychiatrists. Suicidal Behavior Disorder is a proposed DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition), diagnosis which would be assigned to individuals who have made a suicide attempt within the past two years. “A suicide attempt is defined, as a self-destructive act intentionally carried out where there is a vivid anticipation of death. Considering suicidal behavior as a condition independent of depression or other mental disorders is a paradigm shift, as suicidal ideation, attempts, and successful attempts were defined as behaviors associated with mood disorders, and other mental disorders. It is noted that about 10% of people who commit suicide do not have a mental illness” Discerning readers can check this site. http://www.theravive.com/therapedia/Suicidal-Behavior-Disorder-DSM–5
I have not resolved to construct the niches of suicide as a subject, but I will limit myself to Alfred Adler’s and Carl Jung’s opinions on the causes of suicide. The simple answer to the cause of suicide is society. Parents, pastors, other religious leaders and friends put pressure on individuals to undertake responsibilities against their wishes at a given time. For example, you know within you that the brother is not responsible enough for you but your pastor has given a nod because he comes to church always. You don’t like your mother-in-law’s frequent visit to your house, you have a grief within you, but you are not addressing it. Your love one is dead and your pastor is telling you to give it to God. You are aware that you really love the songs by Dada KD, Daddy Lumba, or Kwadwo Antwi or Kofi Nti, but you have been instructed to only listen to gospel songs. Accepting these against ones consciousness are repression and unconscious hypocrisy at their height. You know with perfect certainty that the marriage is not helping you, but your pastor tells you in Church in the first two to three years of marriage things are difficult. This is not true. Truth be told, after sometimes, nothing changes but you become psychologically adapted to the situation be it good or bad. Your initial grief has not gone anywhere, you have repressed it. In the view of Sigmund Freud, human beings are biological in nature and our behaviors are the products of a frustrated biological impulse. Suicide is an example of a frustrated biological impulse. It is an outcome of intrapersonal (existential) repression and unconscious hypocrisy.
Without further ado, Alfred Adler (1870-1937) suggested that every individual is motivated to move from a perceived minus situation to a felt plus situation with its attendant final fictive goal. Inferiority is a sickness and to Adler such a compensatory striving for superiority fashions the development of individuals (Mosak & Maniacci, 1999). Human beings strive for security, significance and belongingness. We strive for security because we are afraid to die, significance because we need some dignities within a society, belongingness because human life cannot be understood apart from social context (Carlson & Maniacci, 2012). This means that every individual has some sort of social embeddedness or interest. The conflict between demanding social interest and lacking it leads to a shock. For example, a parent imposing on a child to study mechanical engineering is demanding social interest and the child’s inability to do well or lack of interest in the subject amounts to lacking social interest. A pastor imposing a husband on his church member or asking the church member to marry to please the church is demanding social interest. The poor church member’s inability to love genuinely the said lady or guy is lacking social interest.
Underneath any shock due to the struggle between demanding social interest and lacking it is depression. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent elevation or lowering of the individual’s emotional state. Underneath untreated depression are suicidal and homicidal thoughts. This means that suicide is evidenced by a throttled social interest. From Adlerian perspective therefore, Adwoa Agyarka Anyimadu-Antwi could not meet social pressure on her by her lecturers, parents and her community. The demanding nature of the course deprived her other things like devoting her love to someone else. She was unconsciously acting hypocritically to please her parents and society. At 18 she was an adult and has both biological drive and a legal right to love someone else.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) credited for the famous dictum: “My life is a story of the self-realization of the unconscious” claimed every individual could be partly understood through persona archetype. The word persona refers to a mask an actor put on for the purpose of mimicking a given character. In the view of Jung, in psychology, individuals put on some characters different from their own and this is called persona archetype. The persona is a façade one exhibits publicly, with the intention of presenting a favorable impression so that society will accept him or her. It might also be called the conformity archetype (Hall & Nordby, 1973). The role of the persona in the personality can be harmful as well as blessing. If a person becomes too involved and too preoccupied with the role he/she is playing, and his/her ego (reasons) starts to identify solely with this role, the other sides of his/her personality will be shoved aside. Such a persona-ridden individual becomes alienated from his nature and dwells in a state of tension because of the conflict between his overdeveloped persona and the underdeveloped parts of the personality. The ego’s identification with the persona is called inflation (Hall & Nordby, 1973).
Conversely, an individual has an exaggerated sense of self-importance which is derived from playing a role so successfully. He/she is putting it over on others. Often he/she tries to project this role on others and demands that they play the same role. If he is in a position of authority, he/she can make life miserable for those under him or her. Pastors sometimes try to project their persona on their members with calamitous consequences. Parents do it on their children with unfortunate outcomes. Customs and laws that relate to personal conduct are manifestation of a group persona (Hall & Nordby, 1973). Statements like: “I read engineering therefore, my child must be an engineer.” “I am a pastor and I combine with schooling and work and therefore, my members can do same,” without recourse to the differences in intelligent quotient (IQ). People follow such an unfortunate instruction out of unconscious hypocrisy which results in depression that causes suicide.
For example, counselor Lutterodt telling madam Juliet Ibrahim to marry is a sort of exerting his persona on the actress. Counsellor Lutterodt is married and thus any adult who does not marry is irresponsible. Very unfortunate conviction. As human beings, we are deceiving ourselves always because we are hypocritical about our feelings and interests and that we pretend to be happy with things which really hurt us. Carl Jung believed that for the sake of our mental health, it is better to be a conscious hypocrite than to be unconscious hypocrite. Unconscious hypocrisy causes suicidal thoughts. Unconscious hypocrisy is what Sigmund Freud called repression. An 18 year old KNUST student committing suicide suffers from Oedipal anxiety caused by “penis envy” with a repressed anal and oral fixation (Freud & Gay, 1989). Group persona due to customs, protocols, conventions and laws are responsible for repression. Transpersonal psychologists believe spirituality has a role to play in the suicide. They recommend prayer, yoga and meditation depending on the religion.
In order to prevent suicide, social pressure must stop. Parents, teachers, friends and pastors must stop imposing their convictions on their clients. The government must be serious about the mental health issues in Ghana. Individuals suffering from grief can practice meditation (mindfulness), prayers or yoga depending on beliefs, as an appropriate distress tolerance skill. Pastors without training in counselling or psychology must be prevented from counselling. We can achieve inner peace by confronting the realities of our own suffering. Many people suffer from unconscious hypocrisy which is killing them silently. Counsellors must refrain from imposing their persona on their clients, even so, I concede that empathetic confrontation is an evidence-based “microskill” in the clinical/counselling psychology.
Counselors must professionally assist their clients to resolve their ambivalence rather than directing them in accordance with the counselors’ own persona. Counselling must be disentangled from the religious faith of the counselor. In North America for example, pastoral counselling is different from counseling. Pastoral counsellors must qualify their titles in Ghana. Let us show love to people by respecting their feelings. We can conceive of a future without high-rises. But a humanity without music and love is not just inconceivable; it is impossible (George Leonard). Let us work together for Ghana and say no to suicide. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana. And Make Us Cherish Fearless Honesty!
By Nana Yaw Osei (Padigo), Minnesota, USA.
Nana Yaw Osei works in the field of psychotherapy. He studies PhD in Psychology.
Carlson, Jon.Maniacci, Michael. (Eds.) (2012) Alfred Adler revisited /New York : Routledge,
Freud, S., & Gay, P. (1989). The Freud reader. New York: W.W. Norton
Hall, C. S., & Nordby, V. J. (1973). A primer of Jungian psychology. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co.
Mosak, H. H., & Maniacci, M. (1999). A primer of Adlerian psychology: The analytic-behavioral-cognitive psychology of Alfred Adler. Philadelphia, PA: Brunner/Mazel
Yalom, I. D., & Yalom, B. (1998). The Yalom reader: Selections from the work of a master therapist and storyteller. New York, NY: BasicBooks.