The man who stabbed his ex-girlfriend to death before hanging himself. Facebook
“The 2019 Plague” Day 278
Just over the last week, there were three incidents which shocked the public in Cambodia and sparked a lot of online discussions.
At the beginning of the week, in what started as a jealous quarrel between a husband and his wife in Phnom Penh, a man killed his three young daughters and then hung himself. Then only one day later, a young man stabbed his ex-girlfriend in public because she had refused to marry him and later, he also hung himself. The week ended with a media report which also went viral about a cruel 32-year-old man, who allegedly had mental health issues, beheaded his 65-year-old mother and then tried to commit suicide.
All of these cases may just be the examples of what is happening on a daily basis in Cambodia, but given their similarity and the fact that they happened in a single week, they should be considered to be a wake-up call for everyone to pay more attention to the status quo of murder–suicide. In the Kingdom this is defined as an incident in which a homicide is followed by the perpetrator’s suicide, typically immediately or within 24 hours after the homicide.
Cambodia is no stranger to such violence. By 2017, Cambodia had a homicide rate of 2.4 per 100,000 population, and also had a high rate of violence against women and children. In the meantime, reported suicide cases are on the rise in Cambodia, from 513 a year in 2011, to 609 a year in 2013, to 749 a year in 2015. According to the latest WHO data published in 2017, suicide deaths in Cambodia reached 1,857 or 2.20 percent of total deaths.
But what actually causes murder-suicide? According to the psychiatrist Karl A. Menninger, murder and suicide are interchangeable acts – suicide sometimes forestalling murder, and vice versa. Some experts consider the homicides to simply be a side effect of the suicide, wherein the specific decision to kill oneself precipitates a perceived necessity to kill others. Other experts say that murder-suicide cannot be categorised with either homicides or suicides but is actually a distinctive behavior.
So far, there has not been any research to examine this issue in Cambodia, but according to Dr Ka Sunbaunat, the country’s leading psychiatrist, the main cause is the anger issue, which could lead to a violent outburst that claims lives and then the guilt afterwards that makes the killer take his or her own life.
“From my own studies and observations of my patients, those who have committed the crime do not feel anything but anger when they did it,” he said. “Usually this has something to do with people’s cruelty, but on the other hand, it is also associated with the perpetrator’s inability to control their anger.”
According to Dr Sunbaunat, when enraged, some people do not know how to control their anger, will lose themselves and act according to their instinct and kill. However, later they regret their actions or realise that they now face a severe penalty and thus decide to take their own lives instead of living and facing the music.
“Violent content, which can be viewed on social media and unprofessional media outlets, is in plentiful supply in Cambodia and this could also lead to cruel behaviour,” he added.
So how should we address this issue? There are many things that could be done, but the basics should always be prioritised.
Anger management is often ignored in Cambodia, in situations where most people pay more attention to their livelihoods than to their mental welfare. However, this is crucial in preventing violence by reducing both the emotional feelings and the physical rage that anger causes. That is why it must be included in the school curriculum as early as possible and also must be taught properly and practically by well-trained teachers. Children need to learn how to control their anger before it develops into cruel behaviour that makes it easier for them to commit violent acts when they grow up. It is also important to teach them to deal with suicidal thoughts, by nurturing in them the understanding of the value of life and patience.
In Buddhism, the official religion of Cambodia which is practiced by more than 90 percent of the population, neither murder nor suicide is acceptable. Therefore, it is a good channel through which to prevent murder-suicide among adults, as it can be presented in
the sermons of monks. Monks should be well-versed in anger management so that they can provide instruction to both children and adults alike – as well as the lesson on mercy and compassion, which is a very important part of this religion.
In addition, more resources should be allocated to the promotion of mental well-being in the country through campaigns, free therapy as well as other means. The government also needs to put more effort into fighting drug abuse and alcoholism, both of which could trigger irrational and brutal behaviour, as well as into gun control so that the weapons will not be used in a moment of rage.
For individuals, it is a must to avoid saying or doing anything that could arouse anger or violence. You should also pay attention to unusual comments or the actions of people around you. If for example they say something about killing a person, you should try to console them or ask them to consult a therapist.
It is only when everyone is doing their part that we are in a better position to prevent more victims from such acts of violence.