Some disturbing news about suicide pacts recently emerged from the Northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat. Reports from First Nations regions across Northern Canada suggest that the tragedy of suicide occurs quite frequently in almost every community. Reports from Japan, with its academically rigorous school system, also tell of young, school-aged children ending their lives as a result of the demands of a society that praises high-achieving academic samurai. Anything less than academic excellence requires the academic samurai to commit hara-kiri for having shamed themselves and dishonoured their families.
Many communities across South Africa have been shaken by frequent suicides involving school-aged teenagers. Reports have emerged from several communities across North America of school-aged children having ended their lives as a result of school bullying, a phenomenon that appears to have reached epidemic proportions in several regions. While the suicide of children and teenagers is especially tragic, adults have also prematurely ended their lives for a variety of reasons that include public shaming, having experienced a significant loss, or having endured a physical or emotional trauma.
In his great treatise entitled Man’s Search for Meaning, survivor of concentrations camps at Dachau and Auschwitz Dr. Viktor Frankl tells of prisoners of war who ended their own lives, and of his own efforts to encourage them to stay alive, despite the hardship. He and other former prisoners have shared the insight that they retained the freedom to choose the attitude with which they would face the depravity and extreme adversity in their lives. Many prisoners who had previously lived productive and peaceful lives seemed unable to comprehend how they could possibly deserve the depravity of the concentration camps.
Former criminals who became prisoners in concentration camps survived more easily, having chosen the attitude that they actually deserved their fate. Some former prisoners spoke of the physical prison in which some inmates feel free to choose their attitude as well as the mental prison where a free person may feel trapped by life’s circumstances.
The deplorable conditions in most of Northern Canada’s First Nations communities are the end result of perhaps well-meaning government policies and programs of an earlier era, such as forcible removal of children from their families and compulsory attendance in residential schools.
The emotional trauma the transplanted First Nations children experienced in residential schools may have incapacitated the ability of many of them to function as marriage partners or as parents. As a result, men who as children had attended residential schools became physically or emotionally absent fathers to boys who gravitated into gangs, hence the epidemic of gangs and gang violence in many northern communities. Suicide, drug abuse, depression, rape, and teen pregnancy are among the results of broken family relationships. In mainstream society, state policy has increased the occurrence of one-parent families.
During the pre-welfare era, society and its religious institutions encouraged men to become independent, self-reliant, and resilient, seeking spiritual strength from scripture and from spiritual leaders as they responded to the challenges of earning a living, solving problems and supporting a family. Welfare states seek to encourage citizens to depend and rely on state institutions while discouraging them from seeking to become independent and self-reliant. During an earlier era when one-room schools with a single teacher were common, students at different levels could actually learn at their own pace and be promoted at different times of the school year.
Self-reliant, emotionally resilient people who were raised in functional families, who can solve life’s problems while seeking spiritual strength through religious or spiritual devotion, are at very low risk of suicide. When government policy undermines functional families and the influence of institutions that provide spiritual guidance and spiritual inner strength to people, propensity toward suicide increases. Enforcing compulsory attendance in state schools where peer bullying is rampant does more to traumatize a segment of the student population than to develop them academically, intellectually, and spiritually. State school is where the previously unforeseen results of state-caused societal problems manifest.
While dietary deficiencies often result in people experiencing depression, people who have endured bouts of depression have also told about their predominant negative thought patterns that resulted from them having had a negative experience and that seemed to control them. Japanese school children and students of other East Asian cultures who were unable to achieve like an academic samurai regarded themselves as not being good enough and as having shamed their families. The theme of persistent negative thoughts seems common among people who suffer from depression, including some who were unable to succeed at superhuman tasks.
The scriptures of all major religions tell devotees to be humble in their behaviour instead of being boastful and warn of pride and vanity. A state school system that promotes so-called parental “bragging rights” encourages pride and vanity and the use of offspring as trophy kids whose academic achievement somehow earns their families status and respect. They’re under pressure to perform, and when academic trophy kids fall short of academic perfection, suicide becomes an option. Humble families that assure their children of acceptance and encourage self-acceptance greatly enhance their resilience in responding to setbacks.
The combination of dietary changes and empowering spiritual support can go far in helping people who suffer from depression or who may be at risk of becoming suicidal. While spiritual programs that encourage, inspire, and empower people to progressively assume greater responsibility for their lives may be at odds with the objectives of a welfare state, such programs could help some people move beyond their depression and perhaps offer them an alternative to suicide. In confronting suicidal people, Dr. Viktor Frankl sought to identify and articulate an inspirational vision of something to look forward to in the future.
The creators of Canada’s program of residential schools originally had benevolent intentions that were illustrated in a documentary entitled The Noble Savage. However, that program produced former residents afflicted with problems of alcoholism, drug addiction, bouts of depression, and suicide. State officials forgot about providing an inspirational vision of their productive and meaningful future.
Governments are reluctant to admit that their well-meaning policies and programs that showed possible benefits over the short term, may also have contributed to higher rates of suicide and depression among citizens over the long term. The aura of power and prestige among state bureaucrats depends on the state restricting the freedom and liberty of citizens who engage in peaceful and productive entrepreneurial activities. As a result of dysfunctional state policy, entrepreneurs who succeed in the underground economy may actually be emotionally healthier and less prone to depression and suicide than the rest of the population.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.