Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Suicide in slow motion

Published:Monday | February 2, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Garth A. Rattray

Last year, a newspaper article reported that there were 53 suicides in Jamaica in 2012 and 52 in 2013. Some say that the number of suicides is under-reported, but I think the reported suicide rate only takes into consideration the 'sudden death' aspect of the act. Many more people are committing suicide in several ways but they are doing so in slow motion - almost imperceptibly.

Case in point. I know a young girl who grew up under poor circumstances but with decent, hard-working parents. Apparently, she found their home to be too strict, too disciplined, and too confining. She broke out when she was in her late teens. She rebelled in spite of their pleas and got involved with a local undesirable. This was the beginning of her suicide.

Over the years, she produced four children and shacked up with the babyfather. As predicted by her parents, he was a non-progressive, irresponsible idler who thought that the whole world owed him everything, so he spent all his days and nights waiting for things to magically come his way.

Nothing was ever going on for him. Bad luck, bad-minded people and bad breaks were his excuses for his indolence.

immense suffering

Amid her truncated schooling, abject poverty, needy children, health issues and a bum for a babyfather, she suffered immensely and visibly lost decades off her life. She's not dead - well, not quite yet at any rate. But her quality of life is pitiful. She transformed from a healthy-looking little girl into 'The Wreck of Hesperus'.

There are innumerable other youngsters who rebel, 'bruck out' and end up in similar dire straits. What mesmerises me is that they observe their friends suffer terrible fates because of their foolish decisions; they clearly see the ill-fated path their friends travel and witness the tortured souls and prematurely degenerated bodies but they traverse the very same paths anyway.

Young men within many communities sometimes chose to walk the 'rude boy' path that leads to girls, guns and gangsterism. The seduction of the non-conformist, free-for-all, bad-man persona is just too compelling for some to resist. Their egos drive them deep into a thick fog of confused morals, warped realities and fleeting pseudo-happiness.

They emerge from the darkness much worse for the wear and blinded by the light of the truth of what their lives have become: a shell of a lie within the lie of a shell of what they thought they could have been.

Their slow-motion suicidal journey is usually shorter than most. They dash prematurely for the finish line as circumstances move it rapidly towards them, completing the suicide with a fatal gunshot wound from a member of the security forces, a rival gang member, or sometimes even from a close and trusted friend. This scenario replicates and repeats itself all across our island.


Many individuals commit suicide in slow motion by ignoring their medical needs. They don't take care of their bodies, they abuse them, and then add insult to injury by treating prescribed medications like poison. In so doing, they allow modifiable illnesses to run rampant within them.

They don't see their abandonment of scientifically proven methods of sparing their organs as a decision to commit suicide in slow motion; they see it as their personal little rebellion against 'foreign/unnatural chemicals' within them.

Then there are entire countries that commit mass suicide in slow motion. Countries where politicians ignore the real needs of the less fortunate and take advantage of their desperation by using them to form their power base.

When the citizenry, who know better, distance themselves from the ills in society, they, too, are committing mass suicide in slow motion because the ills will come back to get them.

Suicide is an intentional act. However, our actions and inactions are sometimes so calamitous that they are tantamount to intentional self-destruction.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to and