03 Jul 2019 - Marnic Vandenbroucke
In Belgium, 18,000 people die each year as a result of suicide. This amounts to three people per day, not counting the undeclared suicides. A worrying number, especially knowing this is about 1.5 times higher than the European average. What is the cause? Do Belgians feel so much more miserable? Or are there more deeply rooted social problems to blame?
Today, suicide is often still seen as a choice, about which we, as outsiders, cannot change anything. In some cases this presumption is true, but in most cases it is an inaccurate and, above all, misguided view. Suicide is often the result of a number of things going astray. And so it is a process that can be stopped. It is wrong to think that there is nothing that can be done to prevent suicide and that relatives - and society as a whole - have to simply accept it.
The image associated with suicide, as a sort of 'destiny' or 'fate', must therefore be dealt with urgently. By taking significant measures, but also by endorsing many small initiatives and investments. Relying on society as a whole, but also on ourselves as individuals. So it mainly comes down to the will to do something about it.
The first challenge is situated in the field of social assistance. Often, access to institutions and emergency services is difficult. Also in acute cases. A consequence of the aforementioned way of thinking: “we cannot change much about suicide”. A missed opportunity, both for Belgium and its citizens: Belgium loses a lot of social capital as a result of suicide.
An important Flemish government initiative here is the Flemish Suicide Prevention Action Plan, with the aim of reducing the number of suicides by 20% before 2020. That is positive, but we must dare to go further, and contribute ourselves.
To this day there is still a big taboo surrounding suicide. Both to communicate about it yourself, and for the relatives of the victim. A certain social shame remains around the theme. The challenge here is to put the issue up for public discussion. When we greet someone on the street, we ask 'how are you?' We often respond spontaneously with 'fine'. Even if you are not doing well at all. You need a lot of courage to admit this, so we often keep on wearing a mask.
Feelings are not always good or bad, but are part of life and who we are. There are so many people who have made a suicide attempt in the past, but who have now returned to a positive way of life. And we should share these stories with the world. This way we show that there is a solution for every problem. If ordinary people do small but extraordinary things, they can have a big impact.