Addressing a specially convened seminar on Saturday, doctors questioned official statistics that place the number of suicides in Lebanon at well below the regional average. They called for more to be done to help young men and women who are contemplating taking their own lives.
Dr. Elie Karam, head of the Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care (IDRAAC), which co-organized the conference, told Arab News that several factors were causing the suicide rate to go under-reported.
“The person who commits suicide may not leave any signs of the suicide attempt, so it may look like an accident. On the other hand, the person who discovers the suicide may hide this fact, or the author of the accident report may not mention the word ‘suicide.’ We must not forget that insurance companies do not recognize suicide victims,” he said.
The conference, entitled “Suicide in Lebanon: Where are We?” was attended by guest speakers including psychiatrists, judges, clerics and government officials.
Recent World Health Organization figures suggest there were 3.1 suicides per every 100,000 people in Lebanon during 2015, well below the regional average of 3.8. This compared with 3.4 in Saudi Arabia, 3.8 in Iran, 6.5 in Bahrain, 8.2 in Yemen and 10.2 in Sudan.
However, Lebanon, like much of the wider Middle East, is a deeply religious society, and delegates at the seminar said there was a reluctance to address the true scale of the problem in the country.
Islam teaches that suicide as a sin and the Catholic church also warns against it, meaning many Muslims and Christians are often wary of addressing the causes of the issue. This has left many Lebanese feeling they have nowhere to turn to for help when contemplating taking their own lives, delegates said.
In one case highlighted by a judge at the seminar, a young Lebanese man posted a short suicide note on Facebook saying “Farewell, my loved ones” and declaring that “I cannot take it anymore.” He received two likes and 15 comments in response, before following through on his post and killing himself.
Karam said causes of suicide ranged from depression and anxiety to “traumatic incidents in childhood”. He referred to a 2008 IDRAAC study that found Lebanese men had more than double the risk of suicide compared with Lebanese women. Suicidal thoughts are particularly common among youths, rather than adults, he said.
The government has made recent moves to tackle the cultural stigmas around mental health and suicide. Last September, it co-launched a national telephone helpline, believed to be the first of its kind in the Arab world.
Speaking at the seminar on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Hilda Harb said the government is also trying to improve the way causes of all deaths are recorded and digitally logged.