Time to cut the rope

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Time to cut the rope

Suicide is a cry for help. It is difficult to explain why some people take this
decision, while others in a similar - or even worse - situation, do not. People who have attempted suicide often say that they had mixed feelings about the act before attempting it: while there was an urge to get away from the pain of living, there was also an undercurrent of desire to live.

Often, if support is given and empathy shown, the wish to live is increased and suicidal risk tends to decline. As per official reports from National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, 1,34,799 people lost their lives in a suicidal act during the year 2013. Studies reveal that for every one person who dies from a suicide, nearly ten to fifteen have attempted suicide, while a hundred have thought about it. Since we, the society, do not pay serious attention to such thoughts and behaviours, it largely goes unnoticed and undetected, leaving the majority vulnerable to attempt or complete suicidal acts. This places the onus of preventing suicides not only with the medical fraternity and the government, but also with society. When equipped with the skills to identify people with suicidal thoughts around us, we can prevent suicides.

In India, the causes of suicide vary from family problems, illness, failure, bankruptcy, dowry disputes and poverty to drug abuse. But rarely can the reason be pegged at one cause. More often than not, people consider suicide due to a complex web of reasons, that sometimes include mental illnesses as well. Whatever be the reason, experts have noted that a person who is contemplating suicide will, at some point, give definite warnings of his/her intentions. It is here that each one of us can act as a ‘gatekeeper’. If you’ve been dealing with a continually depressed person for a long time now, you may want to get some training to be a gatekeeper.

Who is a ‘gatekeeper’?
A ‘gatekeeper’ is someone who believes that suicide can be prevented and is willing to give time and energy for this cause. A gatekeeper should “sound the alarm” when s/he identifies someone who is very distressed, provide initial emotional
support and then refer them to a mental health professional.

How can someone become a gatekeeper?
Be sensitive to people’s emotions. If someone is looking sad or withdrawn or is going through a difficult period in life, offer them time and a listening ear. Pay attention to how the person is feeling and what you can do to reduce the agitation, until you are able to get more professional help. Don’t focus too much on the reasons of sadness or distress. If you think that the person may be suicidal, a question like “Do you sometimes feel that life is not worth living?” may help a person discuss his suicidal thoughts with you. Contrary to what most people think, asking such a question never induces suicidal thoughts, but if someone is indeed contemplating such thoughts, they tend to reveal them to you. Often, a person who is getting
suicidal thoughts is also ashamed of such thoughts and feels relieved about being able to talk about it, without being judged or labelled weak.

What should the gatekeeper do?
Listen to the suicidal person with warmth, treat them with respect and empathise with their emotions. Do not judge, blame or make the person feel alienated further. Do not say things like “Suicide is a sign of weakness”. Do not get angry with the
person or brush away his/her problems. Focus on the person’s strengths and
encourage him/her to think of the good things in life. Remember to remove means for suicide (such as sharp objects, medicines, pesticides) and ensure that the person is not left alone till the crisis passes.

National Institute of Mental Health
and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS)
Centre For Wellbeing, BTM Layout,
Bangalore, conducts gatekeeper training programmes in suicide prevention, every
alternate month.

(The article has been curated by White Swan Foundation for Mental Health, with
inputs from Dr Prabha Chandra, Dr G
Gururaj, Dr M Manjula and D Padmavathy from NIMHANS, Bangalore)

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