TW: The article addresses suicide.
World Suicide Prevention Day is hosted by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), every year on September 10 to raise awareness on suicide and its prevention. The theme ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide’, which continues from last year, seeks to integrate a wider network of people towards a more comprehensive approach to tackle this challenge globally. “Despite progress, one person still dies every 40 seconds from suicide,” said World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyeus. The WHO, which extends sponsorship to this cause by including suicide prevention in the Sustainable Development Goals 3, has initiated a thematic measure this year called ‘A Day for 40 Seconds of Action’. This theme aims to go on until October 10 which is observed as World Mental Health Day. It plans to encourage people to dedicate at least 40 seconds of their day to listen, share, talk on or talk to people on suicide prevention. Apart from engaging people pro-actively in suicide prevention activities, it also sends out the underlying message that suicide is a largely preventable problem and that mental health is a key factor to combat this social malaise.
There are many civil body organisations, individual actors, religious bodies, and institutions that work to sensitise and give information on suicide prevention. Helplines can also be very important in suicide prevention. Unfortunately, India does not have any such national or regional level hotline number as a part of a state initiative. Although a few helpline numbers exist, run by civil bodies but most of them are urban-based and their efficiency is questionable. A recent study conducted by Times of India revealed that most calls to helpline numbers remained unanswered, and most numbers were not even working.
In India, one person every 4 minutes dies by suicide, with the highest belonging to the 15-29 age group. According to WHO, India has the highest suicide ratio in South-east Asia and the third-highest in the world. Around 3000 people die every day of suicide. The reasons can range from economic issues like unemployment, to agro-climatic causes like drought, flood, crop failure, or political reasons like withdrawal of subsidies to farmers by government, and social reasons like fall in public reputation, illness (including cancer, AIDS, paralysis), failure in examination or business, drug abuse, love affairs, property dispute, dowry-related, bullying, infertility, divorce or the death of a loved one. The social media ‘revolution’ also has been responsible in certain cases like those induced by the Blue Whale challenge recently, which led to a spate of suicides among many youths who played the game online.
Given India’s statistics and causes for suicides, it is crucial to initiate effective mechanisms to bring down suicide rates. To add to the complexity, the diversity of India’s demography, culture and social institutions like caste can also be challenging. The recent incident of a doctor from a Dalit community in Mumbai who died by suicide due to alleged caste discrimination in her medical fraternity goes to prove that even in one of the most scientific and revered professions in India, the intersectionality of caste, gender and power can be an important catalyst for suicide. Although education is important, it is topped by awareness and empathy as effective mechanisms along with sensitive state initiatives to address this public health problem.
The new Mental Health Care Act, 2017 has de-criminalised suicide in India. It has also proposed several responsibilities by the government like providing care, treatment, and rehabilitation so as to reduce the recurrence of future attempts. One-stop centres or crisis intervention centres must be set up with trained professionals dedicated to suicide prevention. Suicide Prevention Hotlines offering emotional counseling and psychiatric intervention, especially in regional languages, should come up in order to support the large section of people in rural areas who figure very high on the suicide statistics but have close to no support system in their reach.
Youth between 15-34 are the biggest suicide risk group in India as they struggle with stress, bullying, peer pressure, poor relationships, failure and image issues. Sensitisation and awareness programs should be made compulsory in schools and colleges to break the taboo, myth, and stigma of suicide.
Be it online or offline, the idea of ‘safe spaces’ should be of prime importance, where confidentiality and empathetic listening would go a long way. An increase in the conversation of mental health and suicide prevention is the need of the hour to reduce the stigma associated with it in order to fight the good fight.
Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.