Sound mental health is an asset that is often taken for granted. Some of peoplekind’s (Justin Trudeau reference) deadliest foes lurk in the depths of our own minds, within ourselves, feeding on everything that constitutes our persona, leaving desperation and hollowness in its wake.
I really wanted to pen this down on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day. Few things are worse than losing someone to suicide, for nothing short of the direst of desperation drives someone to take their own life. We never know what goes on in people’s lives- the receptionist who greets you with a pleasant smile every day could be quagmired in an abusive relationship, the office-boy who serves you tea is probably trying to follow a dream that society has labelled ‘far above him’ or the girl next door, who you often nod politely to, is stuck in a career that evokes no passion and is desperately trying to hold onto her cargo in a sinking ship.
Everyone has problems, only that some are bigger than others. One has to remember that no tribulation is worth your own life. Often cliché lines such as ‘Only cowards kill themselves’, ‘Think about your parents’, ‘People who commit suicide end up in hell’, are used to dissuade those who frequently hint at ending their lives.
This falls short of the target by miles and only goes on to show the tone-deafness of people. The last thing someone wants to hear, when they are contemplating suicide, is being accused of cowardice. People harbour drastic thoughts only when they are pushed to the brink and are made to feel like failures. Reinforcing their beliefs that they are not brave enough to face their troubles, is definitely not the right way to go about it.
I personally knew someone who was inches away from ending his life, and the only thing that saved him was his own ignorance. This guy in question had a tumultuous relationship with his parents and was often physically and verbally abused at home. After a particularly humiliating incident that included a belt, a wooden stick and a series of “We wish you were dead”s and “You freeloading useless lump”s from his ‘parents’, he decided he’d had enough. What our hero failed to realise was that different poisons have different toxicities and not everything works like cyanide. One drop of a generic cleaning solution, though acrid enough to have a burning sensation on his tongue, failed to kill him. Almost six years have passed and he blesses his ignorant little soul (and doesn’t mind letting me write about it). Now, imagine telling such a person “Think about your parents”, keeping in mind his motive to end things. Not everyone has parents who care about them – this is the truth that Indian society refuses to accept. The vast majority has loving parents, but it doesn’t rule out the possibility that there are some who are stuck in abusive homes with no way out. It is also applicable to men and women who experience domestic violence every day, unable to bear the shame of allowing themselves to be mistreated and choose to kill themselves.
The one thing my friend can recall vividly is what he felt at the moment he prepared to leave everything behind. No, not his friends, his teachers who gave him a pat on the back for the high marks he scored or his school football team that he loved being a part of. None of those things. All he could feel was bliss of a divine sort, simple peace that washed over him as he realised he wouldn’t have to go through the shame of being treated like a punchbag without feelings. In the case of most Engineering students who commit suicide, a vast majority of letters bear the message “I don’t have to do this anymore”. People get stuck in situations that are difficult to get out of and that is what makes them give up. The aftermath of getting themselves out can be unpleasant. Divorcees are judged and dropouts are condemned, and those few brave souls who decide to seek professional help to deal with the mental agony of putting up a fight, are ridiculed.
What we lack is a good support system to help people deal with trauma. Very few ears are ready to listen but the same can’t be said about the number of mouths ready to offer unsolicited advice or condemning words. We don’t have a system that looks beyond what the survivors went through, what happened to them, shadows who they are. Empathy can go a long way in reducing suicides because what people need is to know that they’re not alone and that it is okay to seek help when they’re clueless about handling situations. Time heals everything and when one has no reason to live for, you just have to keep holding on until you find one.
What we can do is be empathetic and kind to those around us. Who knows, someone might have felt better by simply seeing us smile at them. The next time the Swiggy delivery guy is late, you would do well to recall the time you were running late to office, through no fault of yours, horrified at the prospect of facing your boss. Threatening your maid to replace her because her crying toddler back home keeps occupying her mind, when your mother, sister or wife has maternity benefits at their workplace, is an example of antipathy. One kind word can go a long way in restoring hope to those who need it.