This succulent crochet mandala, made using Wink’s spoke mandala pattern, comes to us from Nicolas Martine in France who writes,
You’ve gone away, but you stay for always in our hearts with your so pretty mandalas.
Rest in Peace.”
I’ve been re-reading the book Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. I hadn’t really paid much attention the first time around to the section on animal suicides but it captured my attention during this read. There’s a chapter called “If Juliet Were a Parrot” that asks the question of whether and when animals due by suicide. Throughout the book, we come to see that the way we frame our understanding of animal behavior is significantly impacted by the way we understand human behavior; changes in the mental health treatment of humans also change how we diagnose animals. So there’s a huge risk of anthropomorphizing or misunderstanding animals when we try to consider if they ever die by suicide. With that in mind, there do seem to be examples of this throughout the animal kingdom.
For example, there’s the case of a bird named Charlie who couldn’t fly but was allowed to go sit outside on a tree every day.
“Ann was puzzled as she recounted the story. ‘It was just so sad – she was impaled on a thin metal pole sticking out of the ground … While I was at the store, Charlie had fallen directly onto one of those stakes and it had gone completely through her chest. And, you know, I know this might sound crazy, but I think Charlie might have just had enough. She was a very intelligent bird. And that tree she was on was gigantic, so was the yard, and she played in both all the time. If she had wanted to really hurt or kill herself, she might have done it on purpose. Who knows? I know that’s really anthropomorphizing, but it just seems like such a weird coincidence. Of all the places she could have fallen off, she fell directly on the tiny stake’.”
Author Laurel Braitman then writes,
“As far as Western psychiatry, psychology, and the science of mental health has been concerned, killing oneself on purpose implies a particular form of self-consciousness that we know exists in humans but that can’t be proven to exist in other animals. Yet Charlie may have been self-aware in her way. To what degree Charlie was self-aware, however, is a mystery, not to mention whether she understood that her fall from the tree would end her life. Despite these unknowns, it is still quite possible that Charlie felt her situation was so insufferable that she made the cognitive leap to do something because she no longer cared to preserve herself.”
This chapter also explores examples of animals throughout history who were reported to have died by suicide including a circus lion named Rex who died by hanging, a horse who chose not to fight his way out of mud where he was stuck, self-injurious and possibly suicidal whales and dolphins in captivity, and the controversial possibility that mass strandings could be seen as a form of group suicide.
We don’t know if animals die by suicide. However there is extensive evidence to suggest that many animals suffer from what we would call depression in humans and may have a correlating desire not to live or at least not to continue living in the same way.