Is connected world driving the young to suicide?

Some say choosing to end one's life is a cowardly way out of having to deal with the tough roads in life. Death is the easy answer to end all our problems.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Some say choosing to end one's life is a cowardly way out of having to deal with the tough roads in life. Death is the easy answer to end all our problems.

But cowards wouldn't have had the courage to extinguish their life by leaping off a building or cutting off their own air supply by asphyxiation, especially when most of us spend a good part of our lives trying to prevent death from knocking on our door. Isn't the fight for survival a primal and intrinsic human instinct?

It must then take someone to feel absolute hopelessness and desperation to make that final decision, and it seems this sense of despair is increasing.

According to 2008 estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 1 million people a year perish by suicide--that's one death every 40 seconds. By 2020, this number will climb to one every 20 seconds. WHO noted that suicide rates grew by 60 percent globally in the last 45 years and is among the top 20 leading causes of death for all ages.

It ranks among the top three causes among those aged 15 to 44, with youth suicide increasing at the greatest rate. In addition, almost 30 percent of suicides worldwide are in India and China.

The stats got me thinking about whether technology and the Internet have created an environment that is driving not only more, but also the young to suicide.

One phenomenon spawned in this post-Internet era is cyber suicide pacts, where individuals seal a pledge to take their own lives after meeting online. The first known incident took place in Japan in 2000, but Internet suicide cases have since been reported in countries such as Australia, China, South Korea, the United States and United Kingdom.

In a December 2004 article by British Medical Journal, London-based consultant psychiatrist Dr. Sundararajan Rajagopal said the Internet could spark a disturbing trend where more suicide pacts may emerge when individuals meet other like-minded suicidal strangers online.

Comparing traditional suicide pacts with Internet-related ones, a 2005 Canterbury Suicide Project report noted that the latter almost exclusively involve younger people who are typically complete strangers, while traditional suicide vows often involve individuals aged 50 to 60.

New addictions connected to the Web and video games have also driven some young minds to suicide. Last year, eight teenagers in Singapore, who were avid Slayers gamers, made a pact to commit mass suicide so they could become "slayers" and kill demons. Two in the group eventually made good on their promise.

On top on that, armed with the latest high-tech work tools, we're now able to do more and to do more quickly. And do more we do in order to keep up with the increasingly competitive rat race and meet the growing demands of organizations.

In fact, some of have mastered the art of multitasking so well that we begin to think we're infallible. Unfortunately for some, the realization that we are not infallible comes too late.

The Canterbury article also noted that the rise in cyber suicides signals a need for mental healthcare providers to query young patients about their Internet access.

However, with the emergence of various communication platforms, it has become more difficult to identify troubled minds and get them the help they need. Conversations over mobile phones and instant messaging (IM) can easily mask the sorrow and tears that an individual may be fighting to suppress.

But it usually takes some time before an individual reaches a state when he feels absolute despair. According to WHO, only a small number of suicides occur without warning, with the majority who are intent on killing themselves likely to broadcast definite warnings of their plans.

So there is a window of opportunity to take notice and offer our loved ones the shoulder they need to realize that they don't have to fight their emotional battles alone.

I think it's natural for most of us to have harbored flitting thoughts of suicide at some point in our life...I know I did during my angsty teenaged days. But as my mind matured, I realized it is through tougher times that we become stronger individuals. Besides, it would be foolish to think life will always be a bed of roses.

So by and by, I learnt to get through the rough patches by reminding myself that however impossible it may seem at that moment, even the biggest problem is but a temporary one. "This too shall pass." That has always been my life maxim.

As anyone who has been close to someone who has committed suicide knows, there is no other pain like that felt after the incident. ~ American actor, Peter Greene

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