The average Bangalorean is not your pensioner of yore, but a motley mix of a migrant, a stressed-out techie, a social climber aspiring to be upwardly mobile. Caught in this struggle are millions, some well-to-do, most not so, but everyone wanting a place at the very pinnacle of their aspirations.
As Bangalore steams ahead in its rambling rush to secure a global city tag, it is unmindful of a populace that is getting increasingly insecure, incompetent to manage social, domestic tensions. So, when the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tells us our city is again the nation’s suicide capital, could we raise an eyebrow at all!
Bangalore’s urban growth watchers are unanimous about its direct implication on the average citizen’s social and family lives. Hardpressed to match the city’s pace, the family solace is out of the window. Mutual affection, love, empathy, self-esteem, all factors that once cemented relationships are seriously strained. Stress from work instantly shows on the family, affecting bonds that once were taken for granted.
Altered social fabric
The combination of rising urbanisation, industrialisation and migration of people, not only from other cities but also from rural areas, has been potent enough to drastically change people’s lifestyles. With many finding it tough to cope, suicides have become the norm. The NCRB’s revelation that Bangalore recorded 1,778 suicides in 2010, is only a small reflection of the City’s deeper malaise. That many suicides go unreported only adds to the problem.
Dr P Satishchandra, director of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Science (Nimhans), feels that suicides among adolescents, the middle-aged and the elderly, are penalties the citizens are paying for the City’s unchecked growth.
“Bangalore is seeing rapid urbanisation not only in the IT/BT field, but also in the educational field with many students migrating here. With foreign investment and economic growth, citizens are becoming prey to social isolation. With the joint family system becoming a thing of the past, the nuclear family is only widening the gap among the family members. This has left people with loneliness, distress and depression,” he analyses.
Served as a vent
In days past, the combined family systems in the City served as a vent for members to talk about their problems. But now, with both parents working, there is hardly any interaction among the family members. The sense of isolation and depression among individuals is only getting worse.
The stress among young children, especially school and college students, is immense, notes Dr Satishchandra. He attributes this mainly to peer pressure.
Parents add to the pressure by constantly demanding them to perform better to achieve greater academic goals. In some cases, parents who had missed out on achieving goals in their lives, expect their children to take on that role. Thus, the children are forced to pursue someone’s dreams, not theirs. The sense of despair, stress and frustration couldn’t get worse!
With playgrounds vanishing in Bangalore, children are forced to stay indoors, addicted to video and computer games. This is a sureshot way to boost isolation and make them wary of social interaction. Since they are engaged in their own tensions, parents do not have the time or patience to address children’s problems in a meaningful way. Psychiatrists in the City have seen children, particularly teenagers, attempt to end their lives when they are unable to perform under pressure.
For the office-going crowd, work pressure is the obvious factor. The high demand to complete assignments and meet targets within strict deadlines conjures a pressure-cooker work environment. With money coming in, the urge to live a comfortable life also emerges. Failure to bear the stress and manage financial commitments sometimes leads even an emotionally mature professional to take his life. Working women, who play a dual role in office and at home, sometimes succumb to pressure, a psychiatrist points out.
Loneliness and a sense of helplessness are factors that work against the senior citizens in Bangalore. While children living abroad add to the emotional isolation in many families, there are households aplenty where the elders are not treated well due to their financial dependence. Isolation and depression often lead to thoughts of taking their lives.
Satishchandra also blames the media for not responsibly reporting suicides. “Media professionals try to sensationalise the incident by revealing every detail of the suicide. If a tongue is slit or a man hangs a woman with a saree, the information is detailed. They are not aware that many young children are also reading and watching this news in different mediums and can easily influence them and urging them to make such an attempt,” he adds.
Centre for well-being
Nimhans recently started a Centre for Well-being for promoting mental health in society. The centre offers services of stress management for professionals, college students, homemakers, families and children, pre and post-marital problems among couples, training and workshops on preventive mental health for school, and college teachers on life skills, counselling and healthy parenting.
Dr Prabha S Chandra, professor of psychiatry and coordinator of the Well-Being centre, says keeping the communication channel open between peers, family members and friends in general is very important to avoid suicides and attempted suicides. “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. In many cases, the victim does not understand. The act is mostly committed under severe impulsiveness, where the person has lost all modes of communication to express his/her reason for sadness and depression,” she explains.
Most people manage themselves despite living with a certain degree of anxiety and depression. Problem starts when that management is not possible. Research has shown that nearly 50 per cent of those who commit suicide or attempt to take their lives have an existing mental health problem of either depression, anxiety, or adjustment problems.
Having seen a trend, doctors now stress the importance of checking on people who suddenly stop talking, lose appetite, develop amnesia and refuse to go out.
Family members could intervene at this juncture by constantly engaging with the person. It is important to guide them to seek help from helplines and counselling centres. To handle depression and stress-related issues, every school, college and organisation must have ‘gatekeepers’ or counsellors to whom people can go to seek help. The help need not be limited only to work-related stress, but also relationship issues and family problems.
Shift in approach
According to Indian Penal Code, attempted suicide is a punishable offence. Section 309 of IPC provides: “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine or with both.”
Although the aim of the law is to prevent suicides by legal methods, it has proved to be counter-productive. Emergency care to those who have attempted suicide is denied as many hospitals and practitioners hesitate to provide the needed treatment fearing legal hassles. This results in difficulty to ascertain the actual data on attempted suicides, as many attempts are described to be accidental to avoid entanglement with police and courts.
Dr Sripada Venkata Joga Rao, professor of Law, National Law School of India University, feels that there is need for a ‘policy change.’ Suicide should be de-criminalised to help individuals who could then seek help to overcome their depression. Justice V S Malimath is also working towards this policy.
Strategies to help prevent suicides
* Early recognition of those with suicidal behaviour, and timely help
* Establishing social and crisis support mechanisms for people and communities in *istress and those at higher risk
* Developing life-skill programmes in all educational institutions
* Expansion of mental health services and training of professionals with skills to *ecognise and manage people with mental health problems like
* Expanding and strengthening counselling services across institutions
* Limiting easy availability of drugs and organophosphorus compounds
* Banning all lethal pesticides from routine availability
* Improving care and support for those with past suicidal attempts
* Measures to de-stigmatise and de-criminalise suicides
* Improving trauma care practices in hospitals and first aid skills for families
* Surveillance and research to delineate risk factors and causes