It is hard to access statistical data showing, or at least estimating, the percentage of the Cuban population that commits suicide. That number shouldn’t be very low, taking into account the suffering, pessimism, and desperation that is constantly brewing in a large portion of the population.
According to our own research, the most common psychological conditions that could lead to suicide in the island are depression, distress and anxiety.
Elena, age 30, was constantly depressed. Her best ally was the nighttime, when she would cry, unceasingly, in her bed. She had so many frustrations that sometimes she didn’t know the exact reason for her tears, but crying was her only relief. And trying to sleep her only incentive.
More than once, Elena wanted to die. She thought this would let her leave behind that profound, untraceable pain. She saw death as the solution for ending her troubles. And also to end her inability to stop her frustrations for not being able to do something to solve her problems herself. Resignation ended up being Elena’s loyal companion.
One day Elena decided to tell her closest friends what she was going through. And she learned they also were suffering very similar depression symptoms. They couldn’t sleep at night either, due to that constant feeling of anxiety and helplessness.
Elena and her friends belong to that generation of young people who have grown up knowing that in Cuba, wishing does not mean being able to achieve. Knowing that dreaming is the only thing they are allowed to do. Dreams that are, for the most part, unattainable. Dismayed, they discover that you cannot reach your personal goals by studying hard and becoming a professional. Nor is it enough to work an eight-hour day and have a monthly salary. Because none of those things are able to fulfill the goals and dreams they set for themselves when they were teenagers.
Elena’s misery ended the day she read – in a foreign magazine – that a psychologist recommended to one her readers that she start writing a diary. And, using a tattered old school notebook, Elena started writing and getting rid of all her feelings.
“It is unbelievable the inner peace and calm spirit that I now have. There are no more reasons for crying endlessly. Speaking about how I used to feel, without embarrassment, has helped me a lot. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t made my dreams come true. Expressing myself, freely, has been a real therapy,” says Elena.
But not everyone is that lucky. Hundreds, maybe thousands of young people simply never receive this type of advice in time. Or if they do, they decide not to follow it, like Elena did. Then, they get lost looking for the easy way out with quick solutions. Prostitution, alcohol, drugs and crime, among others, are the main problems affecting young Cubans today.
Thus, the apathy towards education and hard work. The lack of moral and civic values, the lack of interest in getting involved in solving the family’s problems, the problems of the community or the country – aside from their disagreement with the political system established 51 years ago – are really alarming.
Maybe those frustrations and sense of worthlessness are the number one cause of suicide in Cuba. And it is impossible to not feel sadness when one hears that someone you know took his life. A sadness that Elena often feels.
In 2008, 10 people committed suicide in her neighborhood, in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality in Havana. In 2009, there were 7 suicides in that same neighborhood. All men and women between ages 22-45, and one minor who was 11 years old. That doesn’t include the attempted suicides, which not everybody in the neighborhood hears about. We’ll see what happens in 2010.
The motives for these suicides have been very diverse and sometimes there is no explanation. Like the person who took his life because he had been robbed of his bicycle for the fifth time. And we don’t know if the specialists, post-mortem, analyze apparently futile cases.
But what is most likely is that this Cuban took his life because of a host of problems and situations of various kinds, including his health conditions. And the theft of the bicycle must have been the last straw that broke his willingness to continue fighting in a society where, for half a century, you have to fight on a daily basis, no longer to live, but to survive.
Given the lack of official data, these personal experiences give an idea of how oppressive and unbearable the environment and current living conditions are for the Cuban people. That they must not just look for alternatives and means of making a living, but also for a way to get out of backwardness and poverty. Without having to risk their lives jumping into the sea on a raft. Much less attempting to take their own lives.
Desperate solutions that for many in Cuba, unfortunately, for quite a long time, have become the way out of their emotional torment.
By Laritza Diversent
Translated by Cubanita