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A Step Towards Preventing Suicide: Become A ‘Peer For Prevention’


Suicide has always been a familiar term, hasn’t it? Ranging from glaring headlines in varied newspapers to an eye-catching news piece on news channels, it has been described as “breaking news” which always interests people. Sadly, as time passes, the situation is overlooked or overshadowed by inconsequential matters our nation and its population has to deal with.

Leading to a huge gap between what people understand or have knowledge of this mental health crisis, and what actual understanding underlays: suicide is an extreme form of the mental health crisis. It leaves a fresh wound, an untreated wound, to be precise, which leads to more damage.

Representational image.

The problem stands still, hanging between the sensitivity involved and suppression of the phenomenon making people curious yet scared of the term: Suicide, often overwhelming us with judgments, non-acceptance, and sympathy.

The alarming question which arises essentially is what goes through the mind of the person when they take this decision, that ending their life is the only solution to the problem? What thoughts captivate them? What feelings do they experience?

To understand the same, let me take you through an enlightening journey of what really suicide as a mental health crisis is, and how can we, as individuals, become a ‘Peer for Prevention’ and build a mental health community.

What Is Suicide?

Suicide is a Latin word which means the deliberate act of killing oneself, where ‘sui’ means ‘oneself’ and ‘cide’ refers to killing oneself. Thus, the term reflects that suicide is an act committed to ending one’s life.

The underlying intention of someone taking away their own life is not because they, here, at that point in time, feel that they are content with the process of their life and their wishes have been fulfilled; so there’s no point in living any further. The person commits this act because they aren’t finding themself in control of their cognitive faculty and are much0-affected by the trauma.

This form of extreme action is, or can be, considered as a result of internal deliberations or failed attempts of expression to the society about the emotional or mental pain.

Some important facts to know about suicide:

    • People who experience suicidal thoughts and feelings are suffering from tremendous emotional pain.
    • People who have died by suicide typically had overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, despair, and helplessness.
    • Suicide is not about a moral weakness or a character flaw.
    • People considering suicide feel as though their pain will never end and that suicide is the only way to stop the suffering.

Crisis Analysis (India)

India accounts for a share of almost 2 lakh reported deaths by suicide of the global total of 8 lakh deaths by suicide per year.

With this number significantly rising each year, especially in the age group of 15-29 years. (Data released recently by the online journal Lancet Public Health, as part of its Global Burden of Disease Study: 1990 to 2016.) Moreover, “India has been claimed as the most depressed country“and had been reported to have a significant percentage (75%) of the total population to be suffering from depression.

Depression being one of the leading causes of suicide, along with an issue of lack of awareness, unethical information, fraudulent babas or self-help guides or gurus disseminating wrongful information among people, is a concern that demands attention. And we need to make an action plan for its prevention and cure.

What Are The major ‘Risk Factors’ involved?

“Every year, 200 000 people intentionally take their own lives in the Western Pacific Region, accounting for 25% of global suicides. Over 75% of all suicides in the region occur in low- and middle-income countries. Risk factors contributing to suicidal thought or behavior include previous suicide attempts, harmful use of alcohol and mental disorders.”

The reasons overdue the individual to attempt or commit suicide can be far-ranging but it could be broadly categorized into four major categories: physical and mental health conditions, history of trauma, psycho-social factors and role of media.  Some of them are listed below (Source: WHO):

  • Abuse of alcohol, nicotine, cannabis and other drugs such that it causes disturbance to the person and the people around them
  • Mental health problems like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and others
  • Family and other relationship issues, such as marital conflicts
  • Conflicts with caregivers; sexual, physical or emotional abuse;
  • Dowry harassment
  • Academic and peer pressure, due to expectations set by family, teachers, self, etc.
  • Work and finance-related stress, such as unable to keep professional commitments, workplace harassment or abuse, financial responsibilities and burdens
  • Lack of interest and motivation in the chosen field
  • Unexpected job loss, etc.
  • Complications due to a medical procedure
  • Being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness; an illness which has led to permanent disability
  • Family history of suicide, i.e., if someone in a person’s family (or close friends circle) has committed suicide, there can be a strong hereditary factor
  • If a person has attempted to kill themselves previously and has been unsuccessful or prevented from family or friends, he or she can again attempt to commit suicide.
Representational image.

What Are The Possible Warning Signs Of ‘Suicide’?

The signs and symptoms marking the intention of someone either planning or implementing suicide are much observable in more than one way. Here is a presentation of possible warning signs divided over three categories of talk, mood, and behaviour which as a close one or a peer you can notice to help the person through the first step and further encourage professional help to save a life.

Talk: A person ‘talks’ about:

1. Killing themselves; 2. Feeling hopeless; 3. Having no reason to live; 4. Being a burden to others; 5. Feeling trapped; 5. Unbearable pain.

Mood: People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:

1. Depression; 2. Anxiety; 3. Loss of interest; 4. Irritability; 5. Humiliation/Shame Agitation/Anger; 6. Relief/Sudden Improvement.

Behaviour: Behaviours that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:

1.Increased use of alcohol or drugs; 2. Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods; 3. Withdrawing from activities and isolating from family and friends; 4. Sleeping too much or too little; 5. Visiting or calling people to say goodbye; 6. Giving away prized possessions; 7. Aggression; 8.Fatigue.

A Step towards Prevention of Suicide: Become A Peer For Prevention

Yes, prevention is possible and it’s possible through you. You can save a life by following this step-to-step guide presented as a part of “Mental Health First Aid for Prevention of Suicide.”

  1. Become a responsible human and encourage two-way communication with the individual. This can be done by:
  • Be respectful and acknowledge the person’s feelings
  • Ask the person in a direct manner if they have been having suicidal thoughts
  1. Don’t make outright judgments, listen to understand the ‘issues’ concerning the individual. This could be achieved by:
  • Avoiding being harsh or judging the person for having suicidal ideas
  • Avoiding giving them advice about what to change in their lives or thoughts, unless they ask for the same
  • Avoid making attempts to make them feel better
  1. Give them assurance and generate hope in them. This can be done in the following manner:
  • Instill hope that their problems can be addressed in a constructive manner with a mental health professional or a supportive family member and coping skills can be strengthened
  • You can be supportive and help them acknowledge how difficult their current state is for them.
  1. Make them comfortable with the idea of seeking help and encourage their reformation through positive reinforcements. Also, make mandatory follow-ups.
  • Referring the person to a mental health professional at the earliest, especially if an intent to harm the self is strong, or has already been attempted is crucial
  • Once treatment is started, continuity in treatment is important till the person feels healthy and stable again in their life, because if a person has shown suicidal behaviour, it often makes them vulnerable to attempting these again unless its underlying causes are dealt with.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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