Suicide in the Pakistani context: Escape or Freedom?

Updated: Jun 17

We often hear incidents of youngsters fighting with life after taking a large number of sleeping pills at home, or adults jumping off a residential building, or in shopping malls. There’s a hype created when news is afresh, media talks about it for a week or two, people mourn, and then we carry on with our lives. But why do we never get into the depth of the reasons that leave a person no other option, but to take away their lives? Can we even imagine the thought process and the extremely vulnerable state that pushes a person to this extent? Is it possible to pause for a while and reflect on how excruciating the pain must be for those who can’t see a way out of their situation? This brings our attention to what suicide means to the victims and their pain.

The societal norms in Pakistan never come easy on anyone. If a person decides to not conform to them, the amount of disappointment and negative feedback received is insurmountable. The trust and hope in the loved ones crash down when one realizes that love itself is conditional to meeting certain demands of the society and every family unit is a part of that system.

Loneliness takes a toll on the person when misunderstood by their own people and hence, they choose to keep the pain inside. Some choose to absorb the pain through addictive behaviors while others choose to distract by never paying attention to the pain itself. And there comes a point where neither extreme behaviors nor distractions work, and the person decides to run away by giving up on the pain. Death to them feels like an escape from the brutal norms and deadly silence when nobody is there to ease the suffering for that individual.

While escape may sound semantically like freedom, the two processes act differently in a suicidal person’s mind. Escape from the pain comes from fear and exhaustion, while freedom is a confident choice. Freedom is when a person makes a conscious choice of releasing them from the worldly chains and giving eternal peace to their mind and body. It gives one hope that suicide would bring an end to their agony, and what will follow will be a better state than the current at least. Suicide gives a comforting sensation just to imagine how it would feel without the pain and misery that they are stuck with at the moment. They are aware of making the right decision by not letting the pain define their reality and proving themselves worthy of their own love and attention. Hence, suicide can be liberating for some individuals, unlike escape that comes from distress and disappointment in oneself.

However, it is not always cultural norms that direct one toward escape or freedom from the pain, the presence of a mental illness could be an etiological factor too. But it would be inaccurate to assert that all suicide victims are mentally ill individuals. What is more crucial is to see the state of mind a person is in while thinking of this huge step, which could either be brave or cowardly in their view. What makes them so sure that the painful act of hurting themselves is more bearable than the pain they can foresee right now? What takes away the hope from them to find happiness and contentment in life? What role are we playing as relatives, employers, colleagues, or friends for the people we know, where we can’t even provide them a safe space to be themselves? What effort, as a loved one, are we lacking that makes the people around us feel misunderstood and lonely? Is our presence in someone’s life adding to the fuel of fire or calming it down?

Indeed, it is time to reevaluate ourselves, with the words we speak and the actions we do for our loved ones. Our intentions could be pure and genuine, but how we execute them can be a table-turner for the other person, as intentions matter in how they are perceived. It is alarming to see that most of the suicide cases in Pakistan go unreported because of legal consequences. They are often filed in the form of an accident or natural death. But for how long will we continue to stay ignorant and distant from a problem that exists at the very core of our system and subconsciously affects us all.


Amna Sheikh is currently a graduate student of Psychology at the National University of Sciences & Technology. She does not only have a strong passion to contribute to mental health initiatives in Pakistan but also writes reflectively on social issues to understand life from a deeper and holistic perspective.

She is an in-house writer at Perspective.

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