Little help to ward off suicide thoughts

In Suicide Capital, insensitive media reports only up copycat incidents: Psychiatrists
Last Updated 22 June 2014, 20:08 IST

 In a city which has been dubbed the ‘Suicide Capital’ of the country for the large number of people ending their lives here, lending a helping hand and a shoulder to cry upon could be of immediate relief to those with suicidal tendencies, say psychiatrists.

While mental illness could be one of the major factors driving a person to the extreme step, external elements such as workplace stress, strained relationships, examination worries and performance pressure continue to be the prominent causes. It is usually a multitude of causes — not individual factors — that leads a person to suicide, said Dr Senthil Reddi, coordinator at emergency services, department of psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (Nimhans).

“Pre-existing mental illnesses such as mood disorders, previous attempts, depression and substance abuse are known to contribute 70-90 per cent of the risk,” he said. “Alcohol abuse and dependance only up the chances.” Besides psychological factors, the availability of methods only makes the path “clearer” to those attempting suicides. The media has to be sensitive in reporting the suicides.

“We see copycat suicides, in which people attempt suicide much the same way news reports describe it in graphic detail,” the doctor said. “Students are particularly vulnerable to such methods. Thus, media reports of suicides also contribute to the likelihood.”

But how to counsel a person having suicidal thoughts? “Advising them against having such thoughts is not ideal. One must let the person speak up and convince them that their plight is being understood,” Dr Reddi said. “Besides, it is important to tell them that better alternatives are available.”

The role of ‘gatekeepers’ — principals and teachers in educational institutions, the media, religious leaders and other prominent people — in identifying and guiding such people cannot be underestimated. “Once possible symptoms are identified, it is important to seek immediate professional help. Ignoring it can be dangerous,” Dr Reddi explained.

Considering that failed suicide attempt is considered a crime, he said that most cases were not reported. “It is important to destigmatise suicides,” he added. Dr Gangadhar, professor in the department of psychiatry at Nimhans, said that the National and District Mental Health programmes should be made accessible to each person.

The shortage of dedicated helplines is another grey area. A reality check has revealed that most helplines are operational only during the daytime, while others are simply non-functional. Few colleges affiliated to Bangalore University have counselling centres, despite the varsity making them mandatory.

Depression, one of the leading causes for suicide, typically worsens at night. “It begins by midnight and peaks in early mornings. It is this time that professional help is needed. Ensuring round-the-clock help would be ideal,” Dr Gangadhar said.

(Published 22 June 2014, 20:08 IST)

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