Be as you are and feel happy with that. Even now early in year 2020, with all the New Year’s resolutions we may have made, we should remember the main message: be as you are, it is always good enough. I hope others see how good you are, and more importantly, I hope that you realize it yourself. It is nice if others see us, and tell that we are alright, but the most important is that we realize it ourselves.

As a social scientist (also with a degree that would have allowed me to be a school psychologist) I often write about the need for change, in society, and in individual and group behaviour. I also write about the need for moral and ethical change, and for listening to and reflecting on the messages in the holy books. I would remind us all of the value of caring for others. ‘It is in giving that we receive’, said Francis of Assisi some 800 years ago. We should remember that whatever we do, it should at least not harm others. Well, we also know that in the competitive, capitalist world we live in, if one person has success and win, others may lose.

But in today’s article, I will focus on social and psychological issues, indeed including existential aspects. I will not talk much about politics in the ways we normally understand it; there is something more fundamental, namely human well-being and human community, faith and hope.

This Christmas and New Year holiday season, I have been reflecting on serious basic everyday issues. I have done so because of a particularly tragic event in my home country Norway, with broad media and public attention, notably a suicide. The way the tragedy was handled and talked about can help people everywhere.

The former husband of the Norwegian Princess Märtha Louise (48), Writer and Painter Ari Behn (Bjørshol) (47) committed suicide on the otherwise festive Christmas Day, leaving behind three beautiful daughters (16, 14 and 11), his ex-wife, his new lady friend, his parents and siblings, his in-laws including the King and Queen of Norway, the Crown Prince and his family, and many other relatives and friends. The friends were many since Ari Behn was a popular public figure, both before and after his 14-year marriage with the Princess. He was a kind and likeable man, and particularly good at seeing and talking to high and low. He was generous to everyone and he even said he liked his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, an African-American ‘shaman’.

Unlike what was common earlier, the Norwegian media now write about suicide if the family allows it. But the media shall not explain how the suicide was carried out. Part of the new openness has come to avoid speculations, especially on social media. Earlier, when it was not reported on, the reason was that it was feared that it could encourage others to do the same; besides, there was and still is stigma attached to suicide. In Christianity and Islam suicide is seen as a sin. Faith can help prevent people from committing suicide, or attempting to do so. Yet, it can also have the other effect when people feel they are ‘left by God and human beings’, or when we feel we come far short of own and others’ expectations and standards. In Norway, there is now greater tolerance socially and religiously for diversity than ever before.

Today, we focus on how suicides can be avoided and numbers decreased, and we expect that the health sector, schools, religious associations, and other organizations take up the issues. In their New Year’s speeches this year, King Harald V of Norway and Prime Minister Erna Solberg spoke about Ari Behn’s passing. Solberg said her government will study further causes for suicide, especially the recent increase in cases when young girls commit suicide or self-harm. She made reference to having hosted an Open House event on 10 September last year in connection with the ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’. She said that in 2018, there were 674 suicides in Norway. The total number of deaths in the small country of 5.3 million inhabitants was 40,840. Life expectancy in Norway is 82.3 year, a few years higher for women. Although there are good statistics in Norway regarding cause of death, but it is possible that the suicide figures are higher than registered. Traffic or drowning accidents, for example, may sometimes have taken place deliberately. It should be added that fatal traffic accidents in Norway are quite low, about one hundred per year. Researchers in neighbouring Sweden have recently published reports indicating that up to one-third of fatal road accidents may actually be suicides. We often say suicides are more now than before, but in Norway in the 1930 and earlier, poor old people often committed suicide since life was unberable; this was before the welfare state provided pension and care for all its elderly citizens.

It is common to think that the suicide rate in Northern Europe, with long and dark winters, is higher than elsewhere. This is not really true as it is at the same level as the rest of Europe, North America and Oceania, or slightly higher. Besides, Norway is listed as one of the happiest countries in the world. Finland has a higher suicide rate, and in Denmark, the Greenlanders have a higher suicide rate. In Australia, aborigines have a higher suicide rate than the rest of the population. Pakistan’s registered suicide rate is significantly lower than in Norway, but the prevalence is higher in certain sub-groups and areas; researchers have documented that it is higher among young girls in pockets of the Northern Areas, and also, there are cases when young teenage students, jobless men, and women trapped in unhappy marriages, are reported to commit suicide. In such cases, I believe the media must be very careful reporting on it; medical staff and others must follow up quietly, indeed with preventive measures.

Everywhere in the world, substance abusers have a high suicide rate. Also, people suffering from psychological disorders and illnesses have a much higher suicide rate. In Norway, some 30-40 percent of those who commit suicide belong to this group. In the case of Ari Behn, his parents and his young daughter of 16, Maud Angelica, said he had in recent years suffered from the ‘invisible decease’ that mental illness can be called. In her impressive eulogy at the funeral in the Oslo Cathedral, chaired by Bishop Kari Veiteberg, who has earlier worked as a pastor for the homeless in the capital, Maud Angelica asked everyone needing help to seek help. Friends and family should encourage them to seek help if they think there is need for it. Yet, it is ultimately the person’s responsibility to seek help himself or herself. A suicide should not be blamed on the next of kin, even though there may be things we could all have done better when we look at situations in hindsight.

I called my article today, ‘Be as you are’, and I have not quite written about that. However, the main message in the Norwegian King’s New Year’s speech, and in the other speeches, was that we must see each other, care for each other, and carry each other, if needed, as the King phrased it. He said we are all unique and different, and we must be allowed to be like that and be accepted and valued they way we are. But that is not enough when serious mental illnesses and existential challenges come; it is also necessary to seek professional help.