Patterns of behaviour emerge from the sad stories of suicide. In the wake of the recent tragic deaths by suicide of five young Aboriginal people in our region, the Alice Springs News spoke to Craig San Roque, a psychotherapist and member of the steering committee of Life Promotion, Central Australia’s suicide prevention program. He has had experience over many years of collaboration with Aboriginal people, in particular with traditional healers. He speaks of the problems using the image of the hand.
“For some people suicide is structural, like the back of their hand, with them all the time as a meditated, premeditated action, though it may be disguised, covered over with a skin.
“For these persons there may be an intense and long lasting psychic pain – the nerves in the hands. Suicide is contemplated as a release from pain, from an illness.
“Or there may be ‘bad blood’ – between people, or within a family or there may be family history of taking one’s own life. This gets to the idea of family patterns or patterns of character that turn one to the destructive or sinister side of life, perhaps an embedded depression or psychosis or personality disorder, a bipolar disorder. It’s ‘in one’s blood’, so to speak, and when combined with premeditation and intense suffering, it might lead inevitably to a planned death. A self-managed euthanasia.”
The other main form of suicide is impulsive self-harm linked with the loss of the will to live, which Dr San Roque speaks of using the image of the palm of the hand: “In the centre of the palm of the hand is a pair of opposites – intense anxiety and / or profound listlessness. A stigmata wound.”
The thumb and fingers stand for the five forms of intense primal feeling / emotion:
• suicide as an expression of loss, grief and mourning;
• suicide as depression;
• suicide as an act of rage and frenzy;
• suicide as jealousy – a crime of passion;
• suicide as disappointment.
“Loss, depression, rage, jealousy, disappointment may lead some persons to suicide as impulse – especially if mixed up in a situation of high emotional display, anxiety, fear and chaos, or listlessness and loss of self.”
Then there’s the fist – pressure.
“Some people take their lives when put under intense pressure and contradiction – pressure of expectation or the pressure of not being able to resolve different demands from too many people. I think some of the suicides recently in Central Australia have been because those people took their lives away as a way out of the pressures.
“Display among Aboriginal young people is something to look out for. Suicide as an action to display before others one’s own state of jealousy, disappointment, rage, grief.
“In display the young person may not be thinking at all —it is an impulse of self-centred attention seeking and therefore dangerous.
“Display is very dangerous when a mind and body is in the grip of drunkenness, drug intoxication, alcoholic frenzy.
“We have to add into all this the strange factor of the fashion, the ‘craze’ that can move among young people in our communities.
“People catch the idea and suicide becomes a popular way of acting – or as others might say – of acting out a cultural pattern of rage, of loss, of listlessness, of disappointment, jealousy and envy. In this way suicide might also be a kind of sacrificial act – a strange kind of suicide, a form of unthought self-immolation like those souls who burned themselves as a protest in the outrageously cruel regions of the world.
“This pattern of display, the pattern of the suicide craze, of intoxicated despair – I think this might be the beast who stalks Central Australian Aboriginal camps and towns and takes away the life.”
Life Promotion manager Laurencia Grant says it is promising that the issue of suicide is not as silenced as it once was.
“Many Aboriginal people are talking up about suicide and are more willing to work in mental health and suicide prevention or to attend training to help stop suicides and to address this problem.”
She stresses the importance of knowing that many suicides are preventable: they can be stopped.
“If more people have skills and knowledge, less fear of suicide and understand that this is a shared problem, this will impact on the rates.
“So effective collaboration between sectors of housing, employment, health, drug and alcohol, child protection, law enforcement, education and mental health can go a long way toward helping. And ultimately once Indigenous people have greater control over their own lives and own services, suicide rates will decline as has been the case among some Indigenous communities of North America,” says Ms Grant.