Deaths of Despair

Jordan’s shocking suicide rate is a sign of a society in crisis.

By Osama Al Sharif

Between 2011 and 2016, Jordan’s suicide rates rose 300 percent. During last year alone, 117 people took their own lives: 91 men and 26 women. Recent statistics indicate the occurrence of at least one suicide every three days.

While we don’t hear about many of these cases, some manage to make the headlines. In January, a group of foreign university graduates threatened to leap from Abdoun Bridge unless the Ministry of Education recognized their degrees. While last year, police managed to talk down five unemployed men from the roof of a building in the center of Amman. The group later said failing to find jobs pushed them to attempt suicide. One said he was married with three children, had debts of JD2,000 and hadn’t been able to pay his rent or electricity bills for a year.

What’s particularly worrying is there has been little or no reaction to all this from official bodies. In general, the phenomenon is attributed to increasing social and economic pressures on families, especially in the past few years. Certainly, the government’s latest economic measures, hiking sales tax and increasing fees on many goods and services will only compound the national feeling of despondency, anger, and despair. Adding to this is the fact that the official unemployment rate has remained static, or might have increased a bit, at an average of 15 percent for the last five years

The only major study that I was able to find was a 2012 academic analysis of the phenomenon published in the Public Security Department journal. It was written by Fayez al-Majali and Adnan Dmour, both academics at Muta University. The study listed all 206 suicides and 1,907 attempted suicides that were recorded between 2000 and 2009.

The study suggested the factors leading to suicide were primarily social, followed by psychological, then economic. Most occurred in urban, rather than rural, areas. It also found the highest percentage of suicide cases was among people aged between 18 and 27 (the least being in the 48 years old and above category). It also found a significant statistical relationship between suicide on the one hand and unemployment on the other.

In all, it is despair that drives people to end their lives and one can only assume that the sudden rise in suicide cases and attempted suicides in the past few years is related to worsening economic conditions, stagnant job market, poverty, high rate of bachelorhood among the youth, and divorce. If there is one underlying statistic that indicts us for failing to create a socially just society it is the suicide and attempted suicide rates in Jordan today.

This, in addition to the scary rise in crime rates and societal violence in general, should raise all sorts of red flags at government and non-government levels. There is nothing more precious than life but when society fails to provide the means for an honorable living, even at subsistence level then it is a society in crisis that is heading fast in the wrong direction. Apart from the political consequences of the current mood of helplessness and gloom, the long-term cultural scars will be hard to erase.

Those who care about the stability and sustainability of our society and its security must summon the courage to admit that the current course of putting citizens under additional economic hardships without providing practical means to boost the economy, create jobs, control poverty, confront societal violence, and provide a welfare system that takes care of the poor and vulnerable is not working and will not work.

The Economic and Social Council, which has been recently reshuffled, must take the lead in addressing the current social crisis that we are facing. Its recommendations must be heard and accepted by the government. In addition, concerned ministries, such as the Ministry of Social Development, must also intervene by dedicating resources to study this worrying phenomenon. But most importantly the government must provide a workable plan for economic recovery that goes beyond levying taxes if the state of national despair is to slowly dissipate.