We don’t talk about suicides very often. It’s a taboo subject, because of the shame and stigma surrounding it. In fact, it was as recently as March this year that the Mental Healthcare Bill was passed by the Parliament, decriminalising attempt to suicide. And rightly so, because according to a report published by the WHO in 2014, India had the largest estimated number of suicides in the world in 2012.
Just a year ago, the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Dalit student from Hyderabad University, shocked the nation and was highly politicised in mainstream conversation. However, the fact that the PhD scholar had displayed signs of depression before tragically ending his own life was barely discussed, as is the case with many other students. In engineering hub Kota, 24 students committed suicide last year alone and just this week, a 23-year-old student from Mumbai committed suicide after posting a “suicide tutorial” on Facebook. But this topic is rarely brought into our conversations.
Dr Harish Shetty, a leading psychiatrist from Mumbai, says “The rate of suicides in India is higher than the rate of deaths due to dengue, malaria and tuberculosis. [As a society], we need to believe that depression is an issue as important as TB and malaria.” Only with this sensitised approach can we bring down the rate of suicides in the country.
According to Dr Shetty, the rapid pace of life that we tend to lead these days, which is characterised by economic upheaval, low contact with family and raised aspirations; the stress of education, relationships and poverty, are some of the leading causes of depression amongst our youth today.
Ideally then, we need to build a system that allows those suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety to approach medical officers and seek the help they need, before the issues escalate to the point of suicide. The idea behind a mentally healthy society is, after all, one where no one is contemplating suicide in the first place, right?
At the same time, given the alarming rates among India’s youth, information about suicide prevention needs to be shared more. The internet has a plethora of information about managing and curing physical illnesses, but when it comes to suicide prevention, we can definitely do better. With help from Dr Shetty, we’ve curated a list of immediate steps that one can take when feeling suicidal:
A trusted friend or relative might not be professionally trained to handle the situation, but they can offer emotional support, which can get you through the darkest period.
Suicide prevention helplines offer professional support and guidance on how to overcome the pain both in the moment, and after as well. You can anonymously call a helpline too and this can be particularly useful if you’re uncomfortable talking to someone you know. Here’s a handy list of suicide helpline numbers in India.
In our society, consulting with a mental health practitioner is often associated with shame and stigma. However, it is absolutely essential that you ignore the prejudice that comes with it and seek professional help. Depression isn’t something to be ashamed about, it is something to seek help for, and overcome.
It is difficult to push through the pain when you are alone. Company, however, can offer emotional support and distraction, which is very helpful.
It is worthwhile to remember that suicidal thoughts and tendencies don’t always present themselves when external help is readily available. While there are always suicide helplines open 24/7, there may also be a situation when one is not within reach of the telephone to make the call. For such situations, too, there are things that one can do to avoid committing the final act:
According to Dr Shetty, one way to take control of the situation is to push the act off for later, by a couple of days or a week. This way, you can get some perspective on what things look like after the phase has passed, and even seek professional help within that time frame, which could help you get past the pain and beat it.
At such a time, try making a list of all the positive things and people in your life whose presence makes it special and gives it meaning. You can also try making a list of things you enjoy doing, or list out your favourite books or food items that you relish. Positive reinforcement is a great way to fight suicidal thoughts. If you’re unsure about how best to go about this, a mental health professional will be the best person to guide you through it.
If you are feeling suicidal, chances are that this is not the first time you have felt this way. Helpguide.org recommends removing potential means of suicide to make your environment safer. The list mentions items such as firearms, alcohol, drugs, unnecessary or expired medicines, knives and razors, among other things.
Suicide prevention is an important step in the right direction. But in a society where the rate of suicide is so high, we need to devote equal energy towards eliminating the root causes behind the issue – underlying mental health disorders such as depression. We need to talk about these issues more, be supportive of loved ones going through them, and know how best to help them through it. Let’s begin by starting the conversation in our homes, schools and workplaces. Let’s break the silence.