A 17-year-old girl fatally shoots herself with her father’s gun near Abha. In Bisha, a 20-year-old girl hangs herself in her home. In Ras Tanura, a man in his 20s shoots himself in front of his family and dies. A man in the Eastern Province decides to take his life by drowning himself in a rooftop water cistern. A teenage shoots herself in Taif. In one day, three teenage girls in three separate incidents took their own lives.
These are just some of the suicides that were reported in the press in recent weeks. Interior Ministry estimates show a steep increase in suicides across the Kingdom, nearly doubling from about 400 cases in 1999 to 787 in 2010. The statistics might indicate a more openness to address the issue of suicide in the Kingdom, but some academics are suggesting that suicide, especially among the young, is increasing and could worsen unless measures are taken to identify what causes a young Saudi to become so depressed as to take the final leap.
Ahmad Al-Hariri, a forensic psychotherapist, says younger Saudis are embracing the idea of suicide, “due to developments that have brought about unusual changes in the society,” such as the more complicated and challenging aspects of modern life that make suicide more of an accepted idea in the culture.
“In Japan, for example, which is the country with the highest suicide rate, the culture of suicide exists and is observed by some as a legitimate means to end a person’s suffering and pressures,” said Al-Hariri.
The media also plays a role, especially movies, in offering up quick and easy ways of self-extermination, he added.
To tackle the problem, Al-Hariri says more efforts should be made to establish therapies for the depressed and conduct more social research on the causes of suicide in Saudi Arabia. Saudis can be on the lookout for symptoms of depression or self-destructive behavior, such as drug addiction, among their younger family members.
According to a three-year study by the Family Protection Committee of 156 cases of attempted suicide since 2007, 80 percent of these cases involved girls or young women. Causes included domestic abuse, favoritism expressed by parents toward male siblings, forced marriage and preventing marriage, according to the head of the committee Samira Mashhor in a recent interview in Al-Watan daily. According to the World Health Organization, at least one million people end their lives annually worldwide. That figure is estimated to rise to 2.5 million by 2020.