According to the WHO nearly 800,000 people will commit suicide this year. Of these, some 222,000 will be under 30 years old. Looking at the data by country, the reality today is that there is one suicide every 4 minutes in India, 260 a week in Brazil and 135 a day in the USA. In Britain, it is the first cause of death for males under fifty years old. There are 17 suicides a day in Argentina and 10 suicides a day in Spain, where it is the first cause of unnatural death.
But death figures are only the tip of the iceberg. Estimates say that suicide attempts are 20 times higher. That is, every year an amount equivalent to twice the population of Switzerland will attempt to take its own life.
As if the global numbers were not enough by themselves to establish that this is a social and historical problem, psychologists point to loneliness, social anxiety and unemployment as risk factors. In the United States, where rates have risen steadily over the past 20 years, suicides are categorized into a broader phenomenon, the deaths from despair. There is truth in an official taxonomy for once. We see it clearly in the overall figures.
As we can see in the graph above, in low-income countries the most difficult stage of life is at 25 years old. In high-income countries, however, the peak of suicide is around 50 years old. In Britain, a typical example lies between 45 and 49 years old.
To understand the reasons behind these at-risk age groups, we have to take into account, first of all, that there is a clear and almost universal correlation between suicide and social class, which for workers is aggravated by the development of the crisis as well as the erosion of job security. We can either compare German studies or Korean ones, precarization and pauperization are directly related to suicide, as well as indirectly, through unemployment, family break-ups, and the disintegration of the community environment. Even on the scale of individual factories, suicide epidemics from France to China are associated with worsening conditions within those workplaces.
In this context, the 50 in industrialized countries and 25 in low-income countries represent something similar. To be unemployed at 50 today, in Spain for example, is to be sentenced to become a burden on the family. According to unemployment office, before the acceleration of the crisis we are living through, 57.09% of the people over 45 years old who remain unemployed were destined to become long-term unemployed. In countries like India, not having achieved a minimum job stability at the age of 25 means for a worker not to be able to establish an autonomous life, not to be able to get married. Add to that picture the atomization of workers, couple break-ups and social ideologies and expectations about the role of men in the family and in life, and we will begin to understand not only how risk factors fit into the social framework but why suicide has a greater impact on the male population.
What about suicide among students? In South Korea it is the leading cause of teenage death, in India there is one per hour, in Singapore there are even mothers’ organizations dedicated to trying to convince young people to try to talk to their family before a disaster happens. First key point: where these suicides are a relevant social phenomenon they increase in times of exams and especially after university entrance exams whether in Korea or in India, but increasingly in countries like Great Britain. Second key point: when we go to even younger ages, it doesn’t matter if we look at Asia, the USA or Chile: the proportion of girls increases. Harassment by other girls and sexual abuse within the family clearly appear as determining factors in the studies.
It doesn’t take much effort to see the overall picture. In quite a few countries, all the family expectations, both in working class and petty bourgeois families, are placed on the university entrance exam. It is seen as a decisive moment, as the only chance. In Korea the whole country keeps silent for a day. The responsibility placed on the shoulders of the students is overwhelming. This violence carries over into previous years. The obsession with educating for leadership, to be competitive, coupled with the discourse on of a thousand of TV series on popularity and success end up turning secondary education into an ordeal. If we add the decomposition of neighborhoods and family environments and the plague of sexual abuse -another product and accelerator of the most savage dehumanization- what we are left with is a framework in which social contradictions fall with brutal force on very young and lonely people without the capacity to overcome their direct effects.
The great grinder
The assassinations of women by partners and ex-partners are reported one by one on the news. Workplace accidents are counted once or twice a year. Suicides are hushed up unless they occur in other countries. Deaths in nursing homes or factories during the pandemic are presented as natural disasters and not as the result of a series of decisions and priorities. They want us to look at everything partially, to think of them as separate problems, to consider them in the abstract. The reality is that the entire system, unable to provide true human development, has become a daily and global danger.
Today the system is a steamroller going amok in the middle of the crowd. It doesn’t matter who drives it, it doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter if the engine increases or decreases its revolutions. Regardless, it will crush us and crush everything in its path because what it really exists for – making capital profitable – is already in direct opposition to the needs of Humanity as a whole.
“The workers and the steamroller“, communiqué from Emancipation.