Suicide is an issue that strikes at our collective conscience, time and again. Incidents like the recent group suicide of a family in Delhi, suicides of celebrities always raise our curiosity about this multi-factorial problem that continues to grow despite all efforts to prevent it.
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), collaborating with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), observes on September 10 every year the ‘World Suicide Prevention Day.’ This year the theme is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide”, emphasising the need and importance of joint efforts in preventing suicide.
It is estimated that close to a million people lose their lives every year by suicide, that is one person every 40 seconds. There has been a sustained increase in suicide rates across the world and across cultures.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB; Ministry of Home Affairs) reports that suicide rates in India rose from 6.3 per 100,000 population in 1980s to almost 11.6 per 100,000 population at present.
Suicides among the youth have tripled during this period; according to NCRB, every hour one student commits suicide in India. A report in the medical journal Lancet quoted India as having one of the world’s highest suicide rates for youth aged 15 to 29 years, and stressed the need for urgent interventions. Suicides are the second most common cause of death in this group after accidents, both preventable tragedies.
Suicide is not an isolated event, for every completed suicide there are another 25 who have attempted. Every suicide leaves behind it at least 20 survivors, including parents, spouses, siblings friends and others, who pass through an excruciatingly painful bereavement process that may last from a few days to years.
Changing societal norms have added to and aided suicide. Factors like a crumbling joint family system, unrealistic academic expectations of the parents, lack of strong peer relationships are some of them.
A failure in examinations makes youngsters feel helpless, frustrated and unwanted. In such situations, if they do not get solace and support from parents, it may well prove to be a proverbial last straw. A report in Huffington Post sometime back showed significant increase in student suicide rates at Kota, Rajasthan — the country’s coaching centre capital.
Suicide incidences vary significantly across countries and within the country as well. The highest number of suicides in India is reported from southern and northeastern states.
There is an urgent need to increase and improve our efforts to prevent suicides especially among the youth. India spends a minuscule amount on mental health — our current health budget for mental health is less than our neighbour Bangladesh.
Our schools and colleges do not have trained psychologists and counselling cells that can help emotionally disturbed students. Many a time, empathetic listening and paying attention to what they say and feel will go a long way in preventing tragic ends.
Preventive efforts should take into consideration the local socio-cultural norms. There are people who are at greater risk for attempting suicide and require careful assessment, like those who have suffered from depression in the past, people who had attempted suicide in the past, people who have lost a close family member like spouse or child recently.
One of the places where preventive efforts can be focused is school. Children and adolescents spend a significant amount of their time in schools and colleges and are influenced more by peer interaction. It can be a good starting point to sensitise them about suicide, problems of alcohol and drug abuse, and early signs of depression. This is an ideal platform to educate and build support system too.
It has been shown that young people who feel connected, supported and understood are less likely to commit suicide. Strategies to educate and set up support systems at community level and identify people at risk may bear fruit. In addition to psychological counselling, major depression may require medical help and treatment. More severe the depression greater the risk of suicide; therefore, it needs urgent medical attention.
(Chaukimath is Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry and Patil is Professor and Head, Department of Community Medicine, BLDE University’s Shri B M Patil Medical College, Vijayapura)