Suicide cases in Syria: Economic, psychological and social reasons

Suicide or its attempt is the result of a set of internal and external factors. Some of these factors are clearly manifested in Syria, where an individual may face and sense their effects before taking such a step (Edited by Enab Baladi)

Suicide or its attempt is the result of a set of internal and external factors. Some of these factors are clearly manifested in Syria, where an individual may face and sense their effects before taking such a step (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

If you are thinking about suicide, resist the idea or feeling, take care of yourself and seek help from those close to you. You can also visit the following website, click here.

The founder of analytical psychology, Sigmund Freud, sees human instincts as falling under the life and death instincts. He considers the death instinct as an unconscious human tendency towards death. However, it is silent as long as it is confined within and does not turn outward into a destructive impulse, according to his book “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”

In her book “Death Will Come and It Will Have Your Eyes,” Lebanese writer Joumana Haddad counts 150 poets who committed suicide in the 20th century from various nationalities. Many writers, poets, as well as dramatic, cinematic, musical, and artistic works in general, have presented contempt for life or an expression of the desire for annihilation, without negating life itself. The creators of these works express temporary feelings while being alive. They acknowledge relatively that life does not grant people’s wishes without a price or tolls, which has been expressed in more than one artistic or realistic way.

In his poem “On This Land,” Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish counts many of life’s pleasures that people pass by indifferently without paying attention or caring for them as they have become routine, which may intersect relatively with the poem “Desires” by the poet Mourid Barghouti, discussing the many things humans seek in their lives to give it meaning. Details vary in presence and absence in people’s lives.

The Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, who believed in the idea of compensation and the necessity to reach the antithesis of tragedy, says in “Death of Bed No. 12,” “Nevertheless, I used to say to myself: Be patient, my boy. You are still on the threshold of your life, and tomorrow, and the day after, a new sun will rise. Aren’t you now struggling for that future? You will be proud that you carved it with your fingernails from the first moment until now.”

All these details, headlines, and motivational texts can be obliterated by a moment of despair, rendering the pleasures and temptations of life insignificant to the individual, even the justifications for life itself, prompting them to hasten death by suicide in search of salvation, rest, or escape from a certain situation or a psychological or emotional state that dominated at a moment, without any proof that the condition will certainly persist forever.

Case clarity, Inconsistent rates

News of suicide or its attempt in Syria has become a recurring situation with varying rates from time to time, witnessing an increase in numbers in one year and a decline in another, or a rise in a specific period of a year compared to a corresponding period of another year, maintaining case clarity.

People in the city of Azaz in the countryside of Aleppo managed to save a young man who attempted suicide by throwing himself from the roof of a commercial center in the city on February 12. Telegram rooms circulated a video recording, which they claimed was of suicide by a young man in the Abu Rummaneh district of the Syrian capital Damascus last week.

The Syria Response Coordination Group (SRCG) documented in northwest Syria, on February 10, three suicide cases in less than 48 hours within different areas, bringing the number of suicide cases in the north since the beginning of the year to 12, four of which failed, an increase of 120% over the same period of 2023.

According to the team, many of the reasons for the increase in these numbers compared to the same period last year are economic, psychological, and social reasons, alongside unemployment, poverty, increased domestic violence, misuse of technology, spread of drugs, and family disintegration due to the current difficult economic situation.

These reasons are compounded by an individual’s view of their own capabilities and the level of reliance on what they can achieve. This has led to more than one case of suicide due to poor academic performance among school students at early stages in their educational career. The most recent of these was the suicide of an 11-year-old girl in January in the area of Taftanaz, as she did not attain what she aspired to in her school examinations.

Factors and specific types

Starting from the individual towards the general, the reasons that put a person in direct confrontation with the state of despair or futility that engulfs him at some time are diverse, diminishing his desire to stay and enhancing his feeling of futility, although these feelings are temporary, as emotions of various types and the sensations they create are not destined to be permanent or maintain the same level of presence.

Reem, a young woman living in Damascus, explained to Enab Baladi that she never thought of suicide, even though she had a previous depressive condition, also pointing to the harsh circumstances and nature of life currently.

The young woman said she opposes the idea of suicide under any circumstance or reason, envisioning that the upcoming days will be better than the current ones. She expressed sadness upon hearing news of suicide cases in Syria, indicating that this sorrow stems from losing a human life on the one hand and from the circumstances that led this individual to such an act.

Psychiatrist Ismail al-Zalaq clarified to Enab Baladi that the idea of suicide results from shocking experiences or the presence of individuals who have committed suicide in the social or family environment, or exposure to content about suicide, or the existence of games or applications that refer to suicide or self-harm, displacement, and the difficult economic factors, in addition to the psychological disorders in the person, without necessarily reaching execution or maintaining the idea in the person’s mind permanently.

“Those who think about suicide send messages to their surroundings, and it is up to the surrounding environment to pick up on the message and not ignore it, such as talking about suicide, writing a will, or bidding farewell to loved ones, and any changes that suggest the person’s discomfort,” added the psychiatrist, emphasizing the need to monitor the condition and consult a psychological specialist, having a safety plan, meaning not leaving the person alone and keeping them away from self-harm means as much as possible, in order not to enable them to execute the idea if they want to.

According to the “MSD Manuals” (medical information provider), suicidal behavior includes “completed suicide,” which means an intentional act of self-harm that leads to death, and “suicide attempt,” an act aimed at self-harm with the motive of suicide without causing death, and in some cases, may not cause injury or harm. Additionally, “suicidal ideation” involves thoughts, plans, and preparatory acts threatening to carry it out.

Some individuals may engage in “non-suicidal self-harm,” a self-inflicted injury not intended for death, such as causing cuts on one’s arm, for example.

Factors that may lead to suicide include suffering from depression or bipolar disorder as part of it, or other psychotic disorders, as well as newly diagnosed medical conditions that affect brain function.

Experiencing bullying, traumatic childhood experiences, grief or loss, persistent sadness, or despair, loneliness, financial hardship, and legal problems are also influential and dangerous factors that may lead to suicidal behavior, according to the MSD Manuals site.

In his book “Suicide” (1897), French sociologist Émile Durkheim explained that individuals strongly integrated into social groups are less inclined to commit suicide. He distinguished between four types of suicide based on the level of social integration and social regulation. “Egoistic suicide” features a low level of integration and engagement with society, whereas “anomic suicide” results from widespread social instability and the absence of a reference for the individual to adhere to, occurring during economic turmoil.

The third type is “altruistic suicide,” reflecting an exceptional level of individual integration into society, where the value of the community exceeds the value of the individual, leading to suicide as a sacrifice for the sake of a higher interest or ideal; Palestinian resistance elements used this type in the past.

There is also “fatalistic suicide,” which, according to Émile Durkheim, results from a situation where the individual is under the oppressive social organization, leading to complete helplessness in the face of fate and society. These suicide cases are characterized by specific periods over time, which the French sociologist interpreted as the influence of social forces on suicide rates.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines suicide as the deliberate killing of oneself, noting that about a million people die annually from suicide, 86% of whom are in low and middle-income countries.

Suicide is also one of the top three causes of death for young people under the age of 25 and accounts for 10 to 20% of female deaths within a year after childbirth. It is notably active in the Middle East, where the suicide rate is 4.90 per 100,000 people, compared to 6.55 for all countries worldwide, with a recommendation to limit access to the means of suicide.

Decline in 2023

Suicide cases in Syria declined during the year 2023, both in regime-controlled areas and northern Syria, compared to 2022.

Zaher Hajo, Director-General of the General Authority for Forensic Medicine in Syria, revealed that up until the end of November 2023, the Authority recorded 146 suicide cases, the majority in Aleppo governorate.

The cases were distributed across provinces with 16 suicide cases in Damascus, seven for males and nine for females, and in rural Damascus, 24 suicide cases, 18 of which for males, a single case for a young man in Quneitra, and in Daraa, four cases, three for males.

In As-Suwayda, there were 17 suicide cases, three for females, and in Homs, seven cases, two for females. In Hama, 11 cases were recorded, six for males.

Hajo mentioned that in Tartus, there are 19 cases, all for males, and in Latakia, 19 cases, 16 for males and three for females. In Aleppo, 28 suicide cases were recorded, ten for males and 18 for females, while al-Hasakah did not record any attempts during the same period.

These figures were met with 175 suicide cases in regime-controlled areas during 2022, many of which occurred in Aleppo and Damascus.

In northern Syria, the SRCG documented up until the end of November 2023, 62 suicide cases, 34 of which failed, compared to 88 cases in 2022, 33 of which failed.

Documented suffering

All numbers, statistics, and studies that measure the reality of Syrians’ lives unequivocally prove the depth of the tragedy they face on both an individual and collective level, not only without hopeful solutions but even without promises of a solution, and without raising the threshold of hopes that the future will bring an improvement that would in turn reflect on the individual’s life.

More than 90% of Syrians are below the poverty line, and more than 1.5 million need humanitarian assistance. Also, the average cost of living in regime-controlled areas exceeds 10.3 million Syrian pounds, and the minimum cost of living is 6.5 million pounds, while the minimum government salaries do not exceed 186 thousand pounds.

About two million people live in camps out of a total of 2.9 million displaced people in an area inhabited by 4.5 million people, where 3.7 million suffer from food insecurity, according to the latest UN data.

In northeastern Syria, where the Autonomous Administration is in control, most food commodity prices have risen like in other areas of Syria, even fuel, which is abundant in the region, especially after the Administration raised wages in August 2023, reaching a minimum salary of about one million Syrian pounds (about 74 US dollars).

These figures, along with others, reflect the scale of needs on the one hand and the pressures that Syrians face in meeting their needs, without justifying the termination of life by personal decision, or under the influence of a state of despair, as there have been cases that managed to harness their suffering for a higher purpose and translated their harsh circumstances through creative humanitarian activities as much as possible.


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