With the rate of suicides almost quadrupling over the past decade, it would be safe to estimate that suicidal tendencies are a growing reality of our society across all sections of the population, regardless of age, gender, or economic strata. In the wake of the sudden deaths of DJ Avicii, chef Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, it’s almost an existential crisis to identify the cry for help of near and dear ones, who might be battling depression.
In fact, given the changes in the societal structure in the recent years, the social support available is markedly reducing, along with smaller families and reduced social interaction — more so, with the invasion of social media over lives all across the globe.
Understanding a suicidal mind
A suicidal individual is filled with many despairing and negative emotions that make it difficult for him or her to see beyond a very narrow focus. Such people feel helpless about being able to change the present and therefore, hopeless about the future and are driven to self-destruction. Some individuals may also harbor certain myths about suicide that are sometimes propagated in the media. They might think suicide is an act of bravery or rebellion.
In fact, helplessness and hopelessness are defining characteristics of the way a suicidal person thinks. However, it is important to note that the pivotal point is not about an increasing prevalence of suicide rates, but instead is the need for creating a sensitized awareness and exposure, especially in the Indian scenario.
Preventing suicides is a possibility
It is alarming to take a glance at the recent statistics, which indicate suicide to be the eight highest killer in the world, also suggesting that 90 per cent of those who commit suicide have an undiagnosed, untreated or partially treated psychiatric condition at a root cause.
At this juncture, it is important for us to realise that suicide is actually preventable. Contrary to popular opinion, suicide is not an impulsive decision that happens on the spur of the moment. In fact, more often than not, it is a well thought out decision, which means that there could be many clear warning signs of people who might be contemplating suicide. Therefore, by spreading adequate awareness, it is actually possible to ensure a timely identification of individuals contemplating suicide and this in itself can be a significant step towards the prevention of such incidents.
Some of the common warning signs could include verbal statements like, “I hate my life”, “Nothing matters anymore”, “Life is not worth living”, “There’s no way out,” — particularly if made with increasing frequency. Certain behaviours that may communicate suicidal intent may include giving away precious possessions, isolating oneself from friends and family, indulging in risk-taking behaviour like reckless driving or substance use, a sudden fascination with death/suicide related music, movies and literature, or expressing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, along with sudden change in moods.
Need of the hour – De-stigmatisation and sensitised awareness
We now need to work collaboratively to create an environment which destigmatises suicide and encourages to seek help. An increased sensitivity of the general population, where people are aware of the challenges of mental health problems for those affected in itself, can go a long way in supporting timely identification, help seeking behaviour and treatment opportunities.
If an individual is mentally healthy and has the requisite coping strategies in place, the likelihood of committing suicide in the face of challenging circumstances is remarkably reduced. There is ample evidence to support the efficacy of mental health treatment in reducing thoughts of and attempts at suicide. This help does not always have to be professionally driven. In fact, even the support of a friend or family member, who is able to provide a listening ear, without being dismissive of the issues being faced, can be beneficial.
It is the need of the hour to establish strong social support systems to help fight the challenge posed by urban loneliness. Social isolation in itself can be identified as a major contributor towards increasing susceptibility of experiences of loneliness, which further can have an adverse impact on the individual’s mood, anxiety levels, as well as coping mechanisms, all of which put together could culminate in adding to the potential suicidal ideations.
Given the paucity of experts in comparison to the population numbers that we have, we need to look at creating avenues for training more individuals to be able to diagnose and manage some basic mental health related conditions. Helplines run by many organizations can play a critical role in this aspect of prevention.