If the magnitude of humiliation is large enough, it can produce a catastrophic sense of hopelessness associated with the loss of self-esteem that can trigger a very sudden and lethal desire to take one’s life.
This is what happened this week when a Chiredzi businessman, Freddy Mbendani, who after suffering severe humiliation, plunged into major depressions, anger, severe anxiety states and took his life by shooting himself in the chest with his pistol while travelling in a commuter ominbus in Mutare.
Sudden, shocking and traumatising is the appropriate way to describe this tragic event, which happened in full of fellow passengers.
Suicide, like all human behaviour, results from a confluence of different and sometimes conflicting purposes. Mbendani, we are told, was being accused by his kinsmen of practising witchcraft and possessing wealth-enhancing goblins.
From this perspective, it can be seen that what befell an individual who was subjected to severely humiliating treatment was degradation, entailing a significant loss of status that had been, up until then, successfully claimed in the community he lived.
Thus, a loss of Mbendani’s standing in his community amounted to damaging his very ability to behave as a member of his community, because the humiliation gave him a degraded status and had a greatly impaired ability to recover his lost status.
Individuals who have been subjected to the most severe and public of humiliations frequently experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Lacking the ability to make effective appeals on their own behalf, they have no discernible way back, no avenue to recover and have a better future. Furthermore, their status as “a nobody” in their community can be excruciatingly painful and may sometimes become intolerable.
Mbendani was regarded by virtually everyone in his community as an individual whose success as a businessman was aided and abetted by witchcraft, and had therefore completely lost his ability to make any claims on his own behalf that could bring about recovery of his lost status.
He had lost not only his whole world, but also all hope of recovering his place in his Chiredzi community. In such situations, the grave danger arises that an individual has one option – committing suicide.
It is sad that Mbendani lacked self-esteem and thus, when the humiliating allegations and mistreatments occurred, he believed the worst of himself and was all too ready to concur in the degrading indictments of his humiliators. Poignantly, he believed that he had no other recourse but to take revenge on the community itself by taking his own life, in the process, regarding suicide as necessary, tolerable, and perhaps even convenient.
Severely humiliated individuals like him often experience a sense of worthlessness and feel unable to function well in other spheres of life. It is little wonder, therefore, that the result would more often than not be profound feelings of worthlessness.
Mbendani used his pistol to take his own life. A big reason for using firearms in suicides is the deadliness of guns themselves: Experts say when a gun is used in a suicide attempt, there’s an 85 percent chance of it being successful. A lack of information about gun suicides makes preventing them increasingly difficult.
As society, we should move towards a new social norm where we assume that people who are in a crisis of any kind — social, mental, addiction-related, or whatever — must not have access to a firearm. This is because studies have shown that every step put between someone and a firearm has the effect of decreasing suicide tendencies.
We should also put more effort into developing and maintaining friendships so that we can come to feel more support. If we can get support to get through those times when we feel disconnected, and having the means and mindset to actually kill ourselves, we can begin to develop the social support to turn things around.