A life is lost every 40 seconds by suicide as per WHO data. In India, every five minutes, someone attempts suicide. While there is an urgent need to coordinate and intensify global actions, each of us too can help save a life. Today, being World Suicide Prevention Day, NT NETWORK seeks to understand the roles we can play in preventing suicide around us
Danuska Da Gama I NT NETWORK
There has been an alarming increase in suicidal behaviours amongst young people aged 15 to 25 years old, worldwide. Every hour, one student commits suicide in India, according to 2015 data (the latest available) from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). It is the leading cause of death in India among younger people.
Our general attitude, as a populace is to turn a blind eye to people who are suicidal. Often, we take things lightly when someone around says: “I’m fed up of life,” or “I want to end my life”, or “Suicide is the best option”. In India, the top causes or correlates of suicide are family problems, illness (including mental illness), unemployment, love affairs, drug abuse, failure in examinations, change in economic status, poverty and dowry dispute. However, depression and mental disorders are a major risk for suicides world over.
Ones who have lost a family member or friend will know and understand what it means to lose someone through suicide. Each suicide has an impact on at least six people.
Stigma around suicides
According to the Million Death Study published in the Lancet Journal in 2012, Goa ranks fifth in the country in terms of death due to suicide in the small states category. The suicide rate of 15.8 per lakh population is much higher than the national average of 11.4.
COOJ Mental Health Foundation has been doing tremendous work in suicide prevention in Goa over the last few years. Managing Director and psychiatrist Peter Castelino tells us that the stigma surrounding suicide has discouraged people from talking about their suicidal thoughts due to the fear of being labelled as weak, sinful, lacking faith, coming from bad families or indeed ‘mad’.
“This does not help when we are trying to detect early signs of suicide or reaching out to help victims of despair. The only way to reduce stigma is through educating people on the pathways to suicide some of which are due to clinical treatable illnesses. Any approach to prevent suicide should include the removal of blame and stigmatisation of that individual and his or her family,” he explains.
While he believes that India has taken a very important step in decriminalising suicide this year, he says that one would hope that all teachers, professionals, religious, lawmakers will take into this into account. “Scientific and spiritual approaches can work together in order to eliminate this kind of stigma and to make people more comfortable in trying to seek help in their moments of despair,” he adds.
Speaking about trends in suicide cases/ attempts in Goa, co-ordinator of the COOJ Suicide Prevention Programme Donna Noronha tells us that she has noticed a lot of stress, pressure and depression, and people don’t really know how to be part of the solution. “There are a lot of expectations from life and when they reach a dead end sometimes they feel that the only option is to take their own life. We see a generation rising which are happier living virtual lives that they are unable to cope with the challenges of reality” she underlines.
We can prevent suicides
Learning basic skills to identify suicidal thoughts and responding to these adequately depending on the level of risk can go a long way in reducing the numbers of suicides. Castelino emphasises that empathy and listening skills are important tools which can be taught in educational institutions to curb suicides.
He says: “Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and needs to be tackled from all angles. A state suicide prevention policy would help get all stakeholders on a common platform to use their resources towards the goal.” For instance, increasing access of students to counselling, life skills training, reducing the pressure to only excel academically, educating teachers and parents on suicide risk can be the role of the Directorate of Education.
“Increasing access to health care, follow up care to survivors of suicide attempts, bereavement counselling can be the goal of the Directorate of Health Services. Other important goals would be to reduce access to poisonous substances, making our bridges safer, increasing job opportunities, increasing the support system to seniors, etc.”
These would call for strengthening of protective factors like improving the overall quality of life through laws, providing opportunities, welfare schemes, etc, for all sections of society. “Building resilience through life skills training is a must and needs to be included in the curriculums of schools,” Castelino says.
There is hope
While the national rate of suicide is 11.4 per lakh population, the rate in Goa is 15.8 per lakh. The southern states in India have a higher suicide rate than the northern states. COOJ in the last six months has seen a three-fold increase in the number of callers on their helpline.
There is a need to instil hope among people who have suicidal tendencies. Castelino tells us that the key here is acceptance through empathising with the feelings of those who are suicidal. He goes on to say that there are several strategies subsequently to provide intervention and support.
“Counselling, helplines, treatment of possible underlying illnesses, follow up care, family therapy, etc, can help a lot. At a broader level, reducing the negative perceptions about suicide will go a long way in improving early help seeking,” he says.
We all can play our small part in trying to prevent suicides. However, if the cause is what you believe in, Donna outlines a few qualities that can help should you want to take up volunteering for suicide prevention.
She says: “To work as a suicide prevention volunteer means to be committed and develop a non judgmental attitude. The volunteer needs to understand the need/s of a suicidal person, and should be trained to listen intently to the feelings and distress that such a person goes through.” The role of the volunteer would be to befriend a person undergoing suicidal ideation and through the principles of listening defuse a distressed situation. COOJ regularly conduct trainings for people desirous of becoming volunteers.
Raising awareness about mental health in schools and colleges would be a big step forward. Many believe that mental health and wellness should be added to school curriculums. Donna who has been working in this field actively since 2011, believes that if each of us takes responsibility to reach out and change a life, not just figures of suicides will drop, but people who attempt will have faith in others and learn to cope. “Awareness and offering hope to those in distress and suffering can be the first step towards changing a life. People need to know that it is okay to ask for help even if it means from mental health professionals.” She goes on to say that mental wellness is very important for all of us. We have to move out from the dark age of stigma and walk towards the light of understanding.
Understanding the problems of our youth
Assistant professor, PG psychology department, St Xavier’s College
Tina D’Cunha has been working with youngsters. She discusses with NT NETWORK issues students have and how they can be dealt so as to curb suicidal tendencies and behaviour among them.
- Being associated with youngsters as a counsellor and psychology professor what do you think troubles our youngster’s most?
Working with youngsters is a fulfilling yet challenging domain. They are very good individuals and are only troubled with their experiences and situations. I feel what probably upsets them most are pressures from various aspects of life. Family problems, peer problems, aggressive behaviours, rigid and hostile attitudes from others, relationship management, poor body image, etc, leads them to become upset and most often rebellious in nature.
I also feel today our youngsters are more pulled towards materialism. And the need to get what they see around sometimes provokes them to avoid their basic priorities like education and work requirements most times. All this could create turmoil in their thought processes and emotional states and experiences.
- Why is it that youngsters give up on life and feel defeated so easily?
Well… not so easily always but mostly when driven by their inability to cope. A lot of them also tend to exhibit impulsive behaviours at times. Most occurrences with them could be ones leading to unhappiness, lack of patience and tolerance and inability to bear. A need for ‘quick fix’ solutions can also provoke youngsters to unhealthy behaviours.
In my interaction with adolescents and youngsters I have seen reasons like boredom, discomfort, judgements from others, commitment issues and most importantly a communication gap between the important sources in their lives to be reasons that cause extreme anxiety and stress for the group.
- What are some reasons that lead youngsters to commit suicide?
Ineffective coping, depression, feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, low control over situations, to escape feelings of pain, hurt and rejection are what youngsters go through
- How can youngsters be motivated to live life to the fullest and be content?
There are many different ways indeed. A few that I can highlight are on a broader front by enhancing parenting and authority roles and expectations in situations that require attention. Also, helping youth prioritise their tasks and roles and develop a sense of responsibility for their own behaviours can play a great role. Other ways include enhancing their coping resources, encouraging open communication from them and using media education in whatever forms to encourage and promote healthy behaviours.
Yellow Bardez is the month long Suicide Prevention Campaign which COOJ will be conducting across Bardez between September 10 and October 10, 2017. The goal of this campaign will be to raise awareness that suicide is a preventable condition, to train key people in the community on the various aspects of suicide, facts and myths, warning signs, basic risk assessment and intervention, create awareness about the various sources of help, to get the various stakeholders sensitised, and to build a network of partners.
Some of the programs chalked out are:
Lighting the Candle of Hope & a Memorial Service at the District Hospital, Mapusa on September 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Cycle Rally on the September 17
The WHO theme talk on ‘Take a Minute, Change a Life’ along with a discussion on the Way Forward for Goa at the Secretariat, Alto Porvorim on the September 27, 2.30 p.m. to 4p.m. along with the State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights in Goa
Awareness on Dementia on the September 21 at COOJ along with inauguration of the COOJ Geriatric and Dementia Centre along with the Directorate of Social Welfare
All Goa inter-Collegiate Speech Contest on the October 5 at St Xavier’s College
Talks, Workshops, Film Screenings etc all over Bardez to various groups of people like students, teachers, parents, police, clergy, panch members, etc
Observation of World Mental Health Day on October10.
Stay away from ‘The Blue Whale’
The Blue Whale is making headlines every single day as youngsters around the world are killing themselves as part of online dares. This ‘killer’ online game requires participants to progressively engage themselves through self destructive dares to move ahead. These include etching a blue whale on your skin and jumping off buildings.
In India there have been around 4 to 5 reported suicides in India of youths who, according to media reports, were playing or had searched for the game online. The origins of this game have been linked to Central Asian countries, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
In our country the concern is great as the rate of undetected depression among teenagers is high in the country. While tackling the issue of mental health is a herculean task in India, it is of prime importance that elders, parents and others can take cognisance of children’s online activity. Spotting signs like disturbed sleeping habits, marks on the body and turning introvert are important to intervene at the right time.
It is important to speak to the child/youth playing the game to make them understand that it is manipulation and that being taken advantage of, or being used to perform dares are meaningless. There is also a need to encourage communication at home where children are allowed to express how they feel.
Today, in our materialistic world, parents substitute their time and love with gadgets and other materialistic things. Thus, they do not pay close attention to children’s online activity and purpose of using the internet. Here intervention is needed through regulation that has to be done gently where they are coaxed to detach from the internet. Try to keep them offline for a day, to start with. Take them out on a family outing. Lastly, try diverting them to The Pink Whale which is an online game that does the exact opposite of The Blue Whale. Here the concept is to make one take control of their well-being and form human connections.