Let’s talk suicide prevention


October 10 is observed as World Mental Health Day with suicide prevention being the focus this year. NT BUZZ highlights the need to empathise, get involved, and speak up about this growing issue

Danuska Da Gama | NT BUZZ

In today’s times, the ever increasing stress is taking a massive toll on people. In fact, the World Health Organisation estimates that India alone will suffer economic losses to the tune of 1.03 trillion dollars from mental health conditions up to 2030.

And thus, the importance of mental health is now being focused upon more than ever before. In keeping with this, World Mental Health Day is observed today, October 10 to create awareness about mental health and eradicate the social stigma attached to it. The theme for 2019 is suicide prevention.

“Suicide is a permanent solution for a temporary problem or distress,” says senior psychiatrist, North District Hospital, Mapusa and president, Indian Psychiatric Society, West Zonal Branch, Rajesh Dhume.

Counsellor and assistant professor of psychology, Ridhima Shirodkar adds that individuals sometimes come to a point where they believe that they are out of coping strategies and thus look at the end as the only viable option.

 And while at times there is a perception that suicide is a cowardly act, Dhume states that one has to walk in the shoes of the distressed to actually feel where the shoe bites. “Nobody wants life to end so easily. Suicidal ideas is a cry for help,” he says.

The Goa scenario

While the national rate of suicide is 11.4 per lakh population, the rate in Goa is 15.8 per lakh. And Dhume believes that there is little difference between how Goans cope or seek help when they are in severe mental distress as compared to other states in the country.

Deliberating further on the Goan scenario, Dhume, who has been serving Goans for the past 28 years, mentions that it is only in some urban pockets that people are more resilient than others.

“Those that are raised in hardships perhaps develop better coping skills,” he says, before adding that problem solving skills is an important factor. “We see that the older generation were better equipped to deal with life stresses. This may have been due to their problem solving skills or a robust family and community support,” he explains, adding that in today’s times of nuclear families and fractured society, the situation is only made worse.

The cry of the youth

Citing a study, Shirodkar points out that there has been a 40 percent increase in the rates of suicide from 1990 to 2016 in India. “This is alarming,” she says.

And most suicides are reported among the young and working population. Shirodkar believes that this is because young individuals find it hard to sometimes ask for help. “Thus I believe that we all must be sensitive and be able to empathise to an extent where we notice drastic changes in behaviour among people,” she says. Youngsters today, she says, may have everything at their fingertips and yet the issues they face are overwhelming which puts a great deal of pressure on them. “It may be substance abuse or relationship issues, they seems to be juggling with quite a lot. Many times a drastic gap is seen in institutes where some belong to well off families and others don’t and this financial pressure and the need to be accepted may force them to seek choices which would cause their mental health to suffer,” says Shirodkar.

However, she says that on the positive side, there is a lot of awareness that is being built up today and getting the necessary help seems easy. “But at times, young people do not realise when they are spiralling downwards and thus it becomes important for teachers and parents and friends to understand when this happens and seek prompt help,” she says.

The need to speak up

While people love to gossip, when it comes to talking about mental health-related issues and suicides, a silence still prevails. In fact, there is also a perception that broaching this topic could lead to the planting of the idea in a person’s mind. This, needs to change, believes an assistant professor of a Mapusa-based college. “We need to talk more about suicide prevention especially to the youngsters as they give up hope easily,” she says, adding that there is a need to introduce life skills in the curriculum which will be beneficial to students and thus create a happy society.

Jokes apart

When someone mentions wanting to end his/her life too, this should not be ignored, says Shirodkar. “They may take it as a joke and let the matter go or may simply change the subject,” she says, adding that listening and being there is what matters the most.

“Empathy is a skill that needs to be developed where we may be able to reach out to the other. When individuals talk about suicide, in a way it is their way of trying to ask for help and this sign must be recognised,” she says.

Getting involved

Acccording to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the mental health treatment gap in India is between 50 to 70 per cent. While there is a wide gap in the number of people who receive treatment and the availability of mental health care facilities, experts believe that people need to take the onus to try and create a happy environment for others.

“You don’t need to be a qualified psychologist or a doctor. You just need to understand and be a great listener,” says a psychologist who believes that cognitive behavioural therapy can be learned by anyone and can play a small part in prevention of suicide.

A suicide survivor speaks to NT BUZZ

“I am someone who loves to laugh and make people laugh. Making people smile comes naturally to me. I can rarely talk to people about my problems and I generally don’t like to show people my weaknesses or burden them” says a survivor, who suffered from depression for awhile.

In fact, the depression took a toll on him and first began to manifest as physical symptoms. “I thought I was having a heart attack. My sugar levels dropped, my pressure was fluctuating. My family didn’t know what was happening. But I knew where the problem was and sought help from a psychiatrist,” he says, before adding that the phase was dark, and even after seeking help, he contemplated and attempted suicide.

“I try to be positive and my family has been supportive. People at my workplace have also been considerate. But the slightest trigger can give rise to negative thoughts that I try to get my mind off,” he says.

Help at hand

Counselling, helplines, treatment of possible underlying illnesses, follow up care, family therapy, etc, can help in preventing suicides. Reducing the negative perceptions about mental health is also a key to preventing suicides.

India has high suicide risk

According to WHO data, 2.2 lakh lives are lost to suicide in India every year, a rate of 16.3 deaths per 100,000 people, which details that approximately a quarter of total lives are lost to suicide worldwide. In fact India also has the highest suicide rate in Southeast Asia.