Is there a link between sad Samoan songs and suicide?

Dear Editor,

Last Sunday (10 September 2017) marked the 15th World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s fundamental theme “take a minute, change a life” would no doubt be instrumental in salvaging some of those who seem to find themselves in the quicksand of depression and suicide.

Depression and suicide are major concerns in the 21st century. The World Health Organisation estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year, with the 15-29 age group particularly affected.

Interestingly, it is also when we are in our teens and twenties that music seems to play its most important role in our lives. Studies show that adolescents listen to music for approximately two to three hours per day, especially when feeling distressed. This link between music use and depression in young people has led to music being blamed for the suicide of several youths in Melbourne, Australia.

Sandra Garrido (NHMRC-ARC Dementia Research Development Fellow) and her colleagues at Western Sydney University, studied the links between sad music and depression. They found that there are many ways that people can use sad music to help themselves feel better.

Some seem to just really get into the music and enjoy the emotional journey. Others can use the music to feel emotional connection with others, to help them work through feelings of sadness or think about how to overcome difficulties.

Depression is different, however. Instead of feeling motivated to make changes, depression tends to cause people to lose motivation. 

For example, a person who has had a recent break-up might listen to Adele’s Someone Like You, have a good cry, and then walk away feeling better. A person with a tendency to depression, however, might listen to the same song but focus on thoughts of how love never works out for them, or how they will never be able to fall in love with anyone else. Thus, instead of feeling better, their negative thought patterns are only deepened by listening to such a song.

These studies have found that some people – especially young people for whom music is so important – may benefit from therapies that help them become more conscious of the effect that music can have. What their research shows us is that when we feel depressed, we may need to be careful about the music we listen to.

In Samoa, we don’t have the luxury of such studies. Nor do we have comparable therapies on offer in countries like Australia or New Zealand. One thing that is so certain in Samoa is that we love our ballads and sad songs. But sadly, some songs maybe indirectly helping to nurture a suicidal mood through its provocative promotion of death in some of their lyrics.

It’s not my intention to identify the artists or songwriters here because I trust when they penned these lyrics their purpose was not to inflict misery. So I’ll just name a few songs and parts of their content in question.

“BABY PE MONI”         …..sili ai lo’u oti, lo le fa’alumaina…. (it’s best that I die than be ridiculed)

“SILI FA’AAFE LE OTI” … sili fa’aafe le oti nai lo o le uo….. (to die is a thousand times better than a friend)

      …..ta fia mafuta i se uo pei o le oti….. (want to associate with a friend such as death)

“UA NA’O LE OTI”       … na’o le oti e sili i lo’u nei ola….. (only death is better than my life)

“LAGONA”                   … sili ai le oti nai lo le ola….. (it’s better to die than to live)

     … na’o le oti ua sili i lo le ola….. (only death is better than living)

The airwaves dedicate a great deal of airtime to these songs that I don’t think anyone is aware of their subliminal messages.

Given someone in a depressive state or on a suicidal spiral, listening to these lyrics might just be the unnecessary nudge that  tips them over the edge. It would be far more beneficial and productive to write songs about suicide prevention and awareness than to glorify the end of life as guitars weep in the background.

While there are sixty five songs on the internet about suicide and suicide prevention (published by Spinditty), I found only one in Samoa. I am not suggesting that the songs I have listed above are a stimulant for suicide. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we can be a little more  mindful of what messages we convey when we sit down next time to write a song to express our sadness.

After all, sadness, according to Sandra Garrido, is a healthy emotion to experience in response to sad events in our lives.

It motivates us to think carefully about our situations and to make changes to improve our lives.


Harry Lee

Grafton (NSW)

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