Every three seconds, someone in the world attempts suicide. On the occasion of World Mental Health Month, Deepa Ballal talks to experts on ways to recognise extreme depression and help people cope
Shwetha (42) was a senior business executive in a reputed conglomerate and was a valuable asset to the company. A doting mother and a devoted wife, she had the makings of a successful modern woman. But often, she was bogged down by the pressure of managing her home and office. She harboured the guilt of not being there for her growing child and that affected her performance at work. One evening, when she was blamed for not keeping the house clean and the child scoring low marks in a test, she broke down and overdosed on sleeping pills. Luckily, she survived.
This is probably a common occurrence in Indian households. Some brush it off as a phase of life, while a few seek help. The others, unfortunately, succumb to the pressure and resort to extreme measures.
We talk plenty of physical health – the importance of hitting the gym, maintaining a balanced diet and getting regular check-ups. But when it comes to mental health, not much is said. Cases of people suffering from depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies is on the rise today. Each of us knows a friend or relative or neighbour who has battled such conditions. From Bollywood celebrities to the farmers of Vidharba, people from different sections of the society – irrespective of age, financial status or social standing – have battled mental health issues and given in.
The statistics are alarming. It is estimated that every three seconds, someone in the world attempts suicide, and every 40 seconds, one succeeds. Unfortunately, one out of these three suicides is happening in India.
What triggers such thoughts?
“Some people are overwhelmed by their problems and feel as if they are trapped. When they lack support from friends, family or the society to help them out of the bad situation, or simply don’t love themselves anymore, they decide to call it quits,” says Dr Kanan Khatau Chikal, psychologist and founder of LifeCures Wellness Clinic, Mumbai.
Financial tight spots also push depressed people over the edge, she adds. “In the lower socio-economic strata, the most common trigger to suicide is lack of finances. In mid to high socio-economic strata, it is disappointment in love or relationships. In their mind, the merits of living life are lesser than not existing at all,” she explains.
India boasts of the highest population of youth in the world, but at the same time, the latest report submitted by the World Health Organisation raises concern: India has the highest number of suicides in the age group of 15–29 years. “Most of these deaths could have been prevented with timely help. However, lack of awareness, stigma and misconceptions about mental health are costing us lives,” says Dr Anjali Chabbria, psychiatrist and founder of Mindtemple, Mumbai. In her book Death Is Not the Answer, she has attempted to understand the suicidal mind. “My aim is to encourage people to speak about their struggles and believe that there are better ways to put an end to their misery,” she says.
Youth are at risk
“The pressure on youth has never been higher,” says Dr Vipul Rastogi, consultant neuropsychiatrist, Medanata Medicity, Gurugram. “Life for youth comprises personal, academic and social spheres. Personal life is basically life at home with parents and relatives. The environment at home will govern how stressed the children are and how well they can manage it later in life. As academic life gets more and more competitive, students fumble under the yoke of expectations,” Dr Vipul explains.
Sneha remembers her classmate who hung himself to death because he hadn’t done well in the exams. “Being the only son to his parents, perhaps he felt that he had disgraced them. I still remember his smiling face,” she says, welling up.
The high number of student suicides in Kota is yet another case in point. “Schools and coaching institutes want higher success rates and end up putting an unhealthy amount of pressure on the students. When a student’s performance falls short of expectations, it initiates a downward spiral of demotivation, decreased confidence and depression,” says Dr Vipul.
On the social front, he observes that the peer pressure to look attractive, have a girlfriend/boyfriend or drink alcohol causes stress among students. The need to fit in and have a ‘happening’ profile on social media is so huge that it governs one’s self-esteem and confidence. “Usually, a person is able to manage if one of the three aspects of life is not going well. But if two of the three are causing trouble, then he or she starts breaking down; and if all three are going badly, he or she becomes desperate for a way out, and sadly, suicide is what many end up choosing,” he elaborates.
How can you help?
Acknowledging the fact that each child has his/her abilities and limitations will go a long way, asserts Dr Vipul. “Not everyone is good at studies and they can always explore their other interests. Using shaming and punishment as a way of motivating a student is outdated and doesn’t help at all,” he observes.
There needs to be flexibility when it comes to choosing or changing subjects or professional goals, he advises. “Providing the child a non-judgemental environment, positive encouragement and the space to express themselves freely with their parents and teachers is essential,” he says.
What are the signs?
Dr Anjali lists some telltale signs of a person contemplating suicide. “They will talk about death or the impact their absence will have on others’ lives. They may give away their personal effects, deal with their finances or mend broken ties. They will act aloof.” Many a times, asking simple questions like “How are you?” and “Is everything okay?” could save someone’s life, she adds.
Dr Divya Venkat, a dentist by profession, finds herself caught between a demanding job, a demoralising boss and a home to run. She often de-stresses by watching T T Rangarajan’s motivating speeches on YouTube. “People can be calm one second and completely lose it the next. I have often thought of quitting, but listening to him, I have learnt to accept hurdles as a part of life,” she says.
A young girl in Chennai thanks her father for blaring one of those speeches on the TV on the day she was planning to kill herself. The motivating words made her rethink her drastic decision.
Acceptance plays a big role in making one mentally strong. “Accept that you can make it through any difficulty with a little support. Seek professional help when things get out of hand,” says Dr Anjali. A good support system, be it family, friends, spouse, or even a pet can go a long way in making one embrace life all over again, she believes.
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, they say. Take a deep breath and give life another chance.