V G Siddhartha, owner of popular chain Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) was found dead on the banks of the Netravati river near Mangaluru on July 31, a day after a note believed to have been written by him to the Board of Directors surfaced. His suspected suicide has left many in shock, raising concerns about the prevalence of suicide and the stigma around mental health in India.
“The reasons for someone to think of suicide can be many. It is usually not a decision taken in a moment, but a considered thought process. The individual typically does not see a solution to their problems and struggles and is unable to express what is happening, which can prompt the feeling of helplessness. Those around the person are also unable to recognise the signs, which translates into help not being extended in those moments,” explains Dr Kammna Chibber, head of Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
Agrees Shabri Prasad Singh, author, mental health activist, and director of Gurgaon Literature Festival, who says that people do not consider suicide as a solution to their woes. “It is, in fact, a deeply embedded thought that keeps recurring, along with dark thoughts, and suicide ideation,” she says.
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990-2016 published in The Lancet, India accounts for 37 per cent of suicides among women and 24 per cent of suicides in men. Individuals between 15 and 39 years old account for the largest number of suicides in India. It says that there has been a 40 per cent increase in suicides in India between 1990 and 2016.
“Suicide is a major problem in India. A study published in The Lancet put the total number of suicides in India in 2016 at a staggering 2.3 lakh. This was the ninth leading cause of deaths of Indians; AIDS kills a much less number of Indians as compared to suicide. Official figures of the National Crime Records Bureau, though, were much less for the same year, perhaps due to under-reporting of suicides. Yes, suicide rates have increased in recent decades. The changing nature of lifestyles, work stress, shift to nuclear families and the resultant shrinking of social support are all factors that contribute to rising stress levels,” Dr Prakriti Poddar, expert in mental health, HR, corporate and education upliftment, managing trustee of the Poddar Foundation, informed indianexpress.com.
To this, clinical psychologist Dr Prerna Kohli adds that CEOs, entrepreneurs, celebrities are generally more prone to depression and bipolar disorder due to the never-ending public and media scrutiny. “They are more susceptible to emotional disorders such as panic attacks, insomnia, substance abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts as they are under more pressure than regular people. In the unfortunate death of VG Sidhartha, the pressure of running such a large empire and the financial stresses of this conglomerate took a toll on him,” she states.
It is believed that Siddhartha, son-in-law of former Karnataka chief minister SM Krishna, had reportedly asked his driver to take him near the bridge, from where he got down and said he was going for a walk. “He (Siddhartha) asked the driver to wait until his arrival. When he did not return even after two hours, the driver approached the police and lodged a missing complaint,” Deputy Commissioner, Dakshina Kannada district, Senthil Sasikant Senthil had said.
Dr Poddar remarks that usually financial troubles, being on the wrong side of the law, relationship issues and lack of emotional and mental support can drive people to take such an extreme step.
Commenting on this, Parimal Shah, president, international operations, M.K. Jokai Group M.K. Jokai Agri Plantations Pvt. Ltd says the entrepreneur’s death highlights the extreme stress and emotional distress businesspersons and entrepreneurs are under. “No matter how glitzy and successful your life appears to the outside world, it’s a lonely place at the top. The pressure of keeping the business thriving, the stress of giving salaries and concerns of finding yourself on the wrong side of the law are all factors that worry entrepreneurs. This also reminds us of the need to have more social and mental support networks for all types of people. We must have dedicated mental health workshops for entrepreneurs to help them cope with stress. Corporate houses must also have mental health counsellors,” he says.
But how can one identify the triggers? According to Dr Kohli, when an individual feels that stress — about the past and anxiety about the future — is making them depressed, or they are having a feeling of hopelessness about the future, they should immediately talk to an experienced psychologist. “I firmly believe that you can talk with a close friend or relative about what’s troubling you. Yet it’s not the same as a professionally-trained experienced psychologist who knows exactly the kind of help you need.”
Dr Chibber points out that reportedly, 90 per cent of those who commit suicide have an undiagnosed mental health problem, and 70 per cent an undiagnosed depression. “This means that creating awareness, sensitising people to understand clinical conditions, accept them and take help is important. Simultaneously, it is important to reach out for help. There need to be various mechanisms in place to seek help — feeling comfortable to talk to the family, reaching out to experts, calling helplines. Finally, the vocabulary to respond to someone who is struggling needs to be provided; the emphasis is placed on the importance of empathy. Listening, on the part of friends, colleagues and family, can go a long way in supporting someone. Professional help is irreplaceable and must be sought,” she opines.
Summing up, Singh says it is essential to open up a dialogue, end the stigma around mental health, and the belief that going to a psychiatrist or taking medication is a shame. “It can be averted if the cloak of fear is shed,” she remarks.
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