The wave of suicide related deaths among resettled Bhutanese has been relatively less intense most recently and I thought this would be a good time to resume my long abandoned write-up on the issue. As we, the resettled Bhutanese, struggle to come to terms with the unprecedented** loss of lives (among us) to completed suicide, no wonder ahead of us lie more questions on this regard than do answers. The frequency of suicide has taken us all by surprise and there is no easy solution on the sight. Instead we’ve got a mess to clear. Somewhere in the chain of hurdles something has gone too awry, we don’t know what, and more importantly, we don’t know how to fix it, if indeed it can be.
For any real observer to suggest that the first step in solving this problem should involve assessing the motives of the deceased should not be surprising. This is one of the easier theories on the offer and may as well make a reasonable argument. But one should also note that the motives can be truly unfathomable, not least because of the diversity of it and the difficulty of accessing private information. Also to be taken into consideration is the fact that any information one gathers from the friends or relatives of the dead is secondary in nature and can be hugely misleading. Any conclusion drawn without a primary source – in this case the dead themselves – should not be read too much into. Therefore, the motives may be of some importance, they should never be taken too seriously and generalized a hypothesis on.
So, is there a theory that can best explain the reason behind the record-breaking suicidal trend among the resettled Bhutanese – or a way to deduce one? NOT really! In fact one can postulate many theories on the issue, but all of them will fall short of even explaining the sheer magnitude of the problem, let alone carving a solution to it. Depression, social and cultural backlashes, inability to cope with stress, poor judgments – these reasons exclusively do not account for the whole story. This tragedy is unlike any others and deserves a collective attention. Therefore, I have tried looking at a broader trend, something that we all live within and are quite used to it, but do not admit its flaws – or at least do not recognize any. By no means would I want to claim my observation as the core of the problem or the suggestion the solution thereof, but it is worth taking a step back and analyzing from the perspectives of those gone.
It has been a little over five years since the resettlement program began, and thousands of us have already poured into the developed world, a chunk of us to the US. Here in the US we have segregated ourselves into mainly three arbitrary groups, not so neatly classified by the age, as much as by the ability to adapt in the new settings.
In the first group belong those that have a good knowledge of the American culture, can reasonably dream of a stable future, and can feel a sense of belonging amongst the crowd. These are folks that can fight their way out through bad times and get used to – if not enjoy – the never-seen-before environment. They have every reason to feel comfortable here; after all they have a good job, are economically stable, or can see a career looming round the corner and would just need to do the right things to get where they want to be. Even though some of them do occasionally wish they had been here much earlier, they also quietly recognize that they are far ahead of the majority. They are not complaining.
The second group does not feel tremendously secured. They are literate but are frustrated at not being able to apply their understandings or to continue building on their good work from the past. Some of these folks tell themselves that they have crossed their peaks while others are still burning that little amount of energy left in them. However, they do have a good work ethics and if they just keep their standards polished, they can earn a satisfactory future. It might not look pretty, but they will unquestionably settle for it.
And there is this group that feels that they are a misfit to the place much to the fact that they have little to no independence at all and their social roles have been stripped away. They have to rely on the other two for almost anything and if they used to be responsible adults back in the place, one can easily understand their frustration and boredom. All of a sudden time has changed so swiftly for them that they do not even want to admit, understandably, the quite dramatic reversal of social roles in our culture. They also do not see how possibly they belong here. If their language is ineffective, it inevitably means they are less likely have a full control of themselves, let alone their family. This can lead to frustration, seclusion and feelings of loneliness, factors potential of propelling self-inflicting thoughts.
Now you might be inferring where I am headed. Looking at the demographics of the death, one can easily identify that the majority of them fall in the two latter groups. This is by no means an accident, for if it were, the trend should have broken somewhere and it rarely has. Instead suicide has taken its toll on the psychology of would-be victims, not only of those gone.
Social segregation is not the problem as much as the cause of it – the lack of connectedness – is. In the US, we’ve built our individual boxes, the type that is elastic and never fulfilling and we work hard to fill them with what we perceive is important for our survival. More than half of it is filled with career and money and the remaining with fun and relaxation. Family and community hardly get any space, and we are too “busy” to think about those that do not have their own boxes. We are quite proud of this.
May be the system is to be blamed a little too. In a capitalist economy, those who work hard are rewarded the most – or at least that’s the accepted perception, and we’re taken with this wind. In return, we get our share of rewards in the form of money and career but we miss on family time and with it the ties and values that are integral parts of our culture. If you live with your family within a reasonable distance and cannot manage to have a good dinner together even once a week, you have a problem in your life. If your parents – or for that matter those close to you – do not feel comfortable expressing themselves around you, you’re not just living a miserable life yourself but you are also contributing to their miseries. Excuses do not buy you sympathy here.
Having been to Canada and the Netherlands, I observed a different social culture in our people. They are not as “busy” (no offense intended) as we in the US pretend to be, and are equally conscious of their future and are happier and less-stressed than us. They spare more time for family and community and are better connected than we are, and as a result there have been very few suicides in these communities. But what inspired me more was not the individual progresses they have made or the unique perspectives they’ve developed. It was their ability to not get carried away by the western lifestyles and their efforts to keep the jewels of our culture – the greetings and the respect, the care and the love to everyone in the community and outside – that amazed me. These simple everyday rituals may not mean much when they are still being practiced, but as we start getting around them like we have in the US, it can mean between having the next generation that is culturally vibrant or the one that is equally apathetic. We know which type we prefer, hopefully.
If issues like this are inevitable in a new life, so should be solutions to them. What is most frustrating though is that we expect someone else – organizations, community groups, or the government – to intervene for us. While it is completely understandable to rely on others for financial support, it is also important to understand that penetrating the depth of the problem can be very daunting to outsiders. Our culture is complex and the history we carry makes it even more baffling. Therefore, if this issue needs a resolution, those looking for one should be well informed of our past and present. Outsiders’ competency may not be too compelling for the job. When one person dies, it is a tragedy. Add a few more and it becomes news. Multiply that by a factor and it’s customary – nobody is surprised anymore! When “oh dear” changes to “there goes another one again” we know it is nonchalance at its worst and can be quite dangerous. So if the problem is to be solved, I suggest a bottom-up individual initiative that starts at the family first and gradually expands to neighbors, community and beyond. Some of the suicides were avoidable, only if I as an individual member of the community could have been aware of my responsibility toward it. Therefore, may be it is I as an individual that needs to take a part of the blame. Maybe I have my own social values I should focus more on and social roles I should oblige to more than my personal needs. May be I should not succumb to the system so much or blame it to look clean.