Poverty, solitude blamed for increase in suicides

Depression due to poverty, loneliness and ill health has been blamed for the rise in the suicide rate in Gunungkidul regency, Yogyakarta.

Over the past several years, the regency, home to some 750,000 people of whom a large number are elderly, saw around 20 people taking their own lives annually.

As of November this year, 28 people were reported to have committed suicide. Of them, 25 hanged themselves, one jumped into a well, one jumped into a ravine and the other took poison.

"The largest number of suicides is by hanging," Gunungkidul Police's spokesperson First Insp. Ngadino said recently.

Ngadino said the number of suicide cases this year was higher than that of 2014, which saw 19 cases.

He said the situation was due to many factors, particularly economic burden and illnesses that went untreated.

The regency, according to Ngadino, recorded 29 cases of suicide in 2013, 40 cases in 2012 and 25 cases in 2011, with most of them involving elderly people.

To help reduce suicides in the regency, the police and local community figures have been collecting data on elderly people who have the potential to kill themselves.

"We have also been conducting regular preaching activities to provide people with religious insights to help boost their mental welfare," Ngadino said.

Psychiatrist Ida Rochmawati of regency-owned hospital RSUD Wonosari said that suicides were mostly initiated by depression, which could be indicated by mood swings and sudden loss of stamina and interest.

"Such a condition cannot be explained logically. Unless proper treatment is provided, it can lead to suicide," she said.

Former Gunungkidul regent Badingah, meanwhile, said the fact that many elderly people had decided to commit suicide indicated that loneliness could lead to self harm.

"Many elderly people [in the regency] have seen their children leave for big cities to get better jobs and easily get lonely," she said.

Being dominated by hilly karst, large parts of the regency are infertile. To survive economic hardships, the younger generation mostly choose to leave for larger cities seeking a more promising future.

She added that integrated service posts (Posyandu) for elderly people could be a good alternative to help prevent lonely, aged parents from committing suicide due to loneliness and depression.

As such, the Posyandu would not just function as a health service post but also as a place of entertainment and socializing for the elderly or for them to get involved in productive activities.

Traditionally people in the regency have believed that suicide is caused by the influences of a malign spirit known as pulung gantung.

They recognise pulung gantung as a red radiance seen over a particular village. When this is seen they believe that someone in that particular village will commit suicide sooner or later.

The latest suicide case was reported on Dec. 4 in Pringbo subdistrict in Rongkop. Ngatimin, 65, committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree.

Subdistrict head Sutino said that prior to the suicide the pulung gantung had been seen over the village, prompting locals to take urgent measures to prevent possible suicides from being committed.

"We patrolled every night, getting rid of the bad spirit. Still we missed it. Someone did commit suicide," Sutino said.