This week saw the International Association for Suicide Prevention World Congress in Durban entitled, in a mix of the sombre and the uplifting, “Scaling the Summit: Suicidal Behaviour in Diverse Cultures“. One look at the programme, and I knew it wasn’t worth going. It’s not that suicide isn’t a serious issue. It is. But the mind boggles at the banality of what passes for suicide prevention strategy. The core of the symposium was dedicated to various kinds of low level governmental intervention, and different ways of persuading individuals that they probably oughtn’t to kill themselves. Rarely was it suggested, even in the title of a talk, that there may be other forces at work, beyond individual pathology. The logic of this approach is to suggest that large parts of the world are fucked up, and it’s all their own fault. China, for example, has an estimated 2 million suicide attempts per year. That’s a lot of fucked up people. But it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the Chinese government, along with pretty much every other government, has abandoned its commitment to people living in rural areas. When I was in India two weeks ago, in the hot zone of farmer suicides, the pattern was clear. Farmers who had embarked on a neoliberal route, shifting towards cash crops dictated by the world market, were the ones who ended up giving themselves. When they died, they were invariably in debt, and saw no other way out. If this is pathology, it is pathology on a mass scale. We have a word for this. It’s “politics”. Meanwhile, the suicidologists, do what they can. Avenues of inquiry such as “Conceptualising a strain theory of suicide ” or “Psychosocial characteristics of suicide victims in central Slovenia ” give the measure of thinking in the world of suicide prevention. In short, it was a congress of people doing everything they could about suicide, except confront the reasons why people do it. Because, if you want to keep the epidemological cash flowing, suggesting that there are political forces at work is suicidal.
And its conference season in Durban. Next week it’s the turn of the 18th International Nutrition Congress, (click here to find out about its Nutrition Safari – We’re In Africa!which will be punctuated by the Kellogg’s Special K and Run Walk for Life, and which features interventions such as “Cocoa, Flavanols and Cardiovascular Health: Translating Fundamental Science Into Nutrition Action” no doubt sponsored by Cadbury’s. With corporate partners such as these, surely it is only a matter of weeks before hunger in the Third World is eradicated, and we can watch television programmes in which grinning African children, mouths smeared with chocolate, grin at us in gratitude, hearts bursting with health.