When A Shaman Runs Amok

Or,  The Problem Of Depression And Violence In Finland

It happened just a few hours after I have posted my previous article about Finland: In Kauhajoki, Finland, a Finnish gunman ran amok killing  several students in a classroom. This horror echoes last November 11, 2007 ‘s student shooting -also at a classroom in Finland- which is known as the “Jokela High school Massacre” in the town of Tuusula. It sounds paradoxical as we have just been  praising the Finnish educational system and economy. But one thing is clear that these student shootings are not part and parcel of the educational program of Finland. But the question is why does such drama  happen in such an educated society? Education is just one aspect of the Finnish society, it is not everything, it’s a great accomplishment yet is not a panacea, a cure-all medicine of the ills of the society. This incident brings us rather to the nature and culture (upbringing) of the Finnish men and women as they went through the tunnel of time and experience. We mentioned the high rate of suicide and alcoholism in Finland, and this was already a problem even before their economic boom. The World Health Organization’s Survey of 2003 showed that  “at 26.6 per 100 000 population in 1993, the Finnish suicide rate  was by far the highest among the reference countries…” Suicide is a form of self-inflicted violence, and when this act involves other persons than oneself (take others with you, so to speak), then it is called extended suicide, a phenomenon observed in many industrialized countries. In trying to answer the root cause of this suicide phenomenon we must go back to the individual Finn and find a trait that could give us a clue which relates to this destructive behavior. The historian  Anthony Upton, concurs that even in the 19th century “Finland was understood to be two to three times more violent than Western European countries”. Statistics show that the Finnish suicide problem  is higher among the finnish male. Common sense will therefore tell us that Finnish men are more violent than women since suicide is by definition a form of violence. A study conducted by the Finnish sociologist Johanna Kantola confirms Upton’s statement when she found out that domestic violence in Finland has also the highest rate in Western Europe. Finnish men are indeed violent, with 40 % of women being victims of their violent men, as her study has shown. Violent behavior is a negative indicator of psychosocial-well being, which means that not all but many Finnish men are unhappy and do not find socially adequate means of expressing their emotions. This is mostly the result  of the social perception of the role of men in Finland (as in other cultures as well)-that of being like a Viking, hardened and strong, shielded from the attacks of the outside, no display of emotions. This is the weakness of their firewall system for nothing can come out anymore thus resulting to emotional suffocation, leading the system to break from within due to this accumulated pressure. The result is violence- either in form of direct suicide, indirect suicide (as excessive alcoholism and drug addiction) and/or domestic violence.The demand of a high-performance society is intense and this alone can cause depressions due to stress, mobbing, failures and broken relationships. You add to that the effect of the weather and climate, which in Finland is characterized by freezing temperatures and darkness for extended periods-not really a balsam for the soul- then you have the perfect ingredients of producing depression. The formula is simple: depression (seasonal, reactive or endogenous) combined with inward violence plus alcohol and modern drugs, mixed all together in a  stressed body and frustrated soul, result to Finns mostly hurting their partners, killing themselves and others (extended suicide )- a story we know also from Japan or even Switzerland.

Free education, industrialisation and economic boom have also their price: people, especially young people, are put under high pressure. In Finland-as in the Philippines- women outnumber men when it comes to attaining tertiary education. This fact makes the men understandably uneasy and in Finland with such a “macho” Viking past, men are placed under intense pressure. This adds more fuel to their violence inside. Entering a university is not at all easy even if it’s free of tuition; a student must bring the necessary high scholastic qualifications and competition among students is high. For this reason, it is not surprising that many Finns go abroad to study. These successive school massacres in Finland is already an indicator of young men’s frustration and violent attitude towards their educational institutions. However, these two recent Amok in Finland represent only the few extreme cases. Idealism (right-extremism) seemed also to have played a crucial role in both incidents. This time it’s an example not worthy of imitation.


jun asuncion

Bulan Observer