“I slashed myself multiple times, and each time it pained physically, it felt better. Like I could breathe again, like I was coming back from some state of coma. It was not really an attempt to end my life, it was an attempt to get myself out of the numbness.” This quote by someone who has slashed her wrists twice – first at the age of 15 and then again when she was 30 – sums up how depression and suicide are interlinked.
According to World Health Organization, every 40 seconds someone in the world ends their lives. Not surprising when in India alone there are at least 56 million people who suffer from depression.
“Mental illness is so common that most of us go through it at some point of time, yet we are so ashamed to talk about it,” says Richa Bajaj, the director of a documentary web series Survivors of Suicide. The series brings forth real-life stories of people who braved the prejudices that plague our society when it comes to mental illnesses.
‘There was nothing to look forward to’
Narrating the horrific incident, the survivor, who faced sexual abuse as a teenager, explains why she could not tell this to anyone: “In our household, we don’t call a penis, a penis. How can a 13-year-old go to her mom and communicate that she has been sexually abused? You do not even give her that vocabulary.”
Sexual abuse is one of the recurrent causes of mental illness, Richa learnt during the project. “So many girls message us and say they have gone through some sort of abuse that has affected them mentally,” she says.
“Your ability as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a professional, everything is questioned, because you attempted suicide. Nothing like this happens when you get typhoid. And because of this, it gets so difficult to reach out and talk to someone,” says the survivor.
Dr Akanksha Pandey, Consultant clinical psychologist at Fortis hospital, says this ‘public stigma’ stops people from opening up. “It is believed that mental illness is caused by supernatural forces and because of this people face discrimination from the family and community.”
Survivors of Suicide is Richa’s attempt to break this stigma. “There’s a feeling of shame attached to admitting to one’s inability to handle life, which we need to change.”
‘I just felt alone’
Whenever 24-year-old Aakash goes out of his house, his mother fears he will commit suicide. Having faced bullying and physical abuse in his childhood, Aakash was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013.
Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant, Psychiatry at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, says, “bipolar disorder is a mental illness in which a person has extreme emotions. One day they might feel happy and enthusiastic, while on the next they can feel low and depressed.”
Aakash describes his struggle to take control of his life but remembers how it kept slipping away that made him think of suicide.
One day, while coming back from college, I was thinking of jumping from the train, when one of my friends called and told me ‘you’re not alone’. That changed everything for me.
Aakash also narrates how people judged him, isolated him and said he is doing all this for attention. “If I am scared of talking about suicide, I may just without telling you anything go and kill myself one day.”
Dr Pandey says, “it is important to understand that people who suffer have unusual experiences they find difficult to communicate. The only means of extending help is by providing a conducive atmosphere with a non-judgmental attitude.”
Aakash found solace in dancing, it was like therapy for him. He now talks to people and helps them deal with their troubles. “I did not choose to be bipolar, and if I did not have a choice, I shouldn’t be judged for it,” he says.
‘I feel I shouldn’t step out of my house’
Born to a schizophrenic mother and an abusive father, Kavita had a rough childhood. She spent most of her life with her father and caretaker. When she was young, Kavita remembers her caretaker sharing graphic details of how her father used to rape her.
“I know of him as a person who has raped and abused people, not as a father.” Being scared of her father all her life, her fear lingered even after she moved out of his house. “My body couldn’t understand that I could be happy now.”
In February 2014, Kavita was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and she speaks of the day she attempted suicide. “That day instead of one tablet, I took 13 and went to sleep. For two days I was waking up only to puke. I have no memory of it.”
Dr Sandeep Vohra says, “PTSD is seen in people who have experienced traumatic events in their lives.”
To the people who do not accept that something’s wrong, Dr Vohra says, “they don’t realise the earlier it is diagnosed, higher are the chances of recovery.”
Kavita has now cut all ties with her father and is positive that she will work it out by herself.
‘Cutting myself became a habit’
After being sexually violated and ridiculed by school authorities, this survivor attempted suicide when she was in class 10. Being rejected from a normal life of education and growth, she found herself seeking love from her boyfriend, who decimated her as a person. She struggled and craved for love, but when she saw no light, she tried to kill herself again.
“It became a habit. I used to find a razor, break it, and cut myself with its blade. Watching the blood oozing out of me gave me a sense of relief,” she says.
Dr Pandey suggests “a person who is struggling with only needs to be heard at times. Listening without interfering or preaching is the best cure.”
The survivor found solace in her pet dog and she says she is going on only for her. “I feel she has rescued me.”
‘Just seek help’
There are many other stories that have been shared anonymously on the Facebook page of Survivors of Suicide. The next story Richa is shooting is of a Delhi girl, who attempted suicide while she was preparing for IIT in Kota.
“There are certain things that stay with you and affect you in a way you don’t really understand. I remember when I was young, I stumbled upon some audio cassettes in which a female relative of mine was talking about her attempted suicide. Although I did not talk to anyone about it, I remember feeling ashamed,” Richa remembering what made her start this project.
Talking about her project, Richa says, “although the project saw positive responses, making people open up always remained a problem. Especially with men because they were dealing with the ‘double stigma’, the stigma of mental illness and ‘failed masculinity’.”
Dr Vohra is happy to see more people talking about mental health and opening up about their problems. The only thing he says, “never shy away from seeking help. It is high time and mental health need to be taken seriously.”