Maternal suicide: A crisis of not one person, one family but a nation
To celebrate the World’s Mental Health day (10th October) the students at the International semester would like to take the opportunity to raise awareness about an under-discussed topic. They want to share some thoughts about maternal suicide in a culturally diverse perspective.
We are a group of students participating in the exchange courses of 2022 Global Mental Health and Crisis Psychology at the University of Bergen (UiB) with scholarships from the “Safe and Sound” NORPART program. Phuong Vu-Bich is a PhD student in Clinical psychology of Child and Adolescents who received a Cotutelle PhD scholarship to be supervised for her research, both in Vietnam (Vietnam National University Hanoi) and Norway (Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences). Linh Hoai Vu is a Master’s student in Clinical psychology of Child and Adolescents from Vietnam National University Hanoi. Mona Selland is a psychology student at the University of Bergen and Reecha Khadka is a M.Phil. Clinical Psychology resident in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Generally, we are wired with loving reactions to our babies and children, their candy-sweet smell, their soft and chubby cheeks, their tearful eyes. Our innate love protects them from harm and increases their chances of survival. For a mother to be suicidal, the devastating feelings that she has been through are beyond a normally functioning person’s ability to comprehend. Perhaps that’s why we tend to avoid talking about it. The decision to take her own life and leave behind - or sometimes, even bring with her - her loving, vulnerable children must result from a multitude of unbearable stressors.
In Vietnam, it’s not just a personal but a social expectation that a married woman has to be a good wife, a loving mother, and a pious daughter, fulfilling her filial piety to her parents- in-law. It’s not just the small family that she has made, but the whole extended family that she needs to take care of. Until the moment of her death after suicide, she can still be blamed for being irresponsible and a failure in coping with stress. The society, the nation is now left with unmothered children, who might grow up wondering why their mothers have left them.
In Norway the nuclear family with the mother, father and siblings are usually the closest to the child and their safe place when they start to know the surroundings and explore the world. Although Norwegian society is becoming more equal between the parents, in the household it’s still often the mother who has the overall responsibility in the home and the one who structures the everyday life of the family. In addition to the loss of a loved mother, the family is required to find new structures in order to function in everyday life. Children left behind by suicide suffer a great loss and are accompanied by an increased risk of developing psychosocial problems, which in turn places a burden on the growing child, its family and the society that uses resources to look after it. We thus see that losing a mother in a family has major ripple effects on the life of the children, the family and on society's residents and resources.
In Nepal, younger age groups and married women are more likely to commit suicide. Socio-cultural and economic factors shape family and marital relationships which impacts psycho-social and mental wellbeing of women inciting suicidal attempts and deliberate self-harm. Among married women, interpersonal conflicts with in-laws and marital disputes between spouses, husband's alleged second marriage or extramarital affairs, alcohol abuse, adjustment problems, abuse, financial problems including dowries and loans have been identified as contributing casual factors to suicide. This leads to a sense of hopelessness and despair which may force them to believe that suicide as the only way out. Mother is revered as a goddess and a source of affection. This represents the value of motherhood to each individual.
We see that across cultures the mothers are essential for the children’s and families’ mental health, and they are important for the society in raising resilient children which contributes to the well-being of the family and the safety of the society. Thus, on World Mental Health Day, we want to highlight the importance of supporting mothers’ well-being.