I’m a practicing psychiatrist for the last 27 years in Mumbai, and I’m here to share a little journey with you.
In June of 2017 on a rainy evening, a family went out to dinner. After they had finished dinner the young boy 25-year-old decided to drop his family back and told his parents that I’m just going to meet my friends and I’ll be back in half an hour. And what did he do? he takes a taxi goes to the Mumbai sea link (Bandra–Worli Sea Link Bridge) and decides to jump off….
The next day family is looking for him everywhere, social media is full of people looking for him, his friends are being contacted and yes the cops drag his body out of the sea.
I’m here to talk to you about suicide something that is a reality today. Every three seconds someone thinks of taking their life. Unfortunately every 40 seconds someone succeeds. A total of reported 8 lakh (800,000) suicides every year and the unfortunate truth is that one-third of them are from India. Why is it that people do this? what happens to them? have they become weak? have they become sissies? is it that we don’t want to face life and we want to take the easy route out?
Just near the Mumbai Sea link, there was another boy who checked into the hotel, a five-star hotel and started live messaging on Facebook messenger telling his friends how he was fed up with life and was going to take the final plunge. Of course, his friends thought he was joking why would he want to kill himself, he was 24, he had his full life ahead of him and yet he decided to jump out. He breaks open a window and jumped out.
The unfortunate part is that most of these people belong to the age group of 15 to 29. When life is so rosy you have all the opportunities in front of them and yes so much is done to combat terrorism in our world today but who is going to save you from yourselves? Why is it that some people can go on struggling and you keep on taking challenges and why is that some cannot even live within themselves. What makes them different who are these people? Yes most of them are youngsters’ teenagers.
India has the highest number of teenagers killing themselves in the world is it only teenagers? No, our elderly suicide ratio is also a close number too and then we’ve all heard of former suicides. But let me tell you housewives commit suicide six times more than farmers.
Can children ever think of killing themselves? I have seen a six-year-old who fooled a lot of people telling them that you know she had climbed up and taken her mother’s antiepileptic pills and taken an overdose of that and told everybody that oh I thought they were sweets and I have taken this. I sat with her in a session of play therapy, she shared with me as to how unloved she felt because she thought the mother loved her elder brother because there was a glass of milk which was given to the elder brother and she did not get any milk every day.
Nobody is allowed to feel depressed
Where are these people with suicidal thoughts? they are amongst us you look around and they are amongst us, one out of every five teenagers is reported by the WHO to be suffering from depression but do they come up to us and tell us that they are depressed?
Of course not because the minute they will come up to you and tell you that “you know I’m feeling depressed” without even listening to them we will start telling them about why they should not be depressed. Nobody is allowed to feel depressed in our society.
If I see youngsters who bring their friends to meet me and say that you know I wanted to come and see you because I thought this is an illness but my parents and my teachers won’t agree. That is because the stigma of visiting a psychiatrist in our society “are you mad, are you mad, you want to see a psychiatrist no no no no, you’re perfectly fine, come on just study hard and it will all go” and what happens to this youngster one day
Yes the helplessness the worthlessness of his life looms larger it’s like that as if there’s something stuck in your throat it won’t go down and it won’t come out and then you take the final plunge you decide that life is not worth living any longer and try to kill yourself
What you see next, well if you are successful there is no next but if you are not successful, you will see a family doctor telling you how shameful it is to try and kill yourself. About how you’re going to spoil the family name, your parents are looking at you angrily, telling you “come on come on if you did not want to study you should have just told us, do you know how much this has cost the family” and then there are people, you know we all have free advisers in our society who will come and tell you that why don’t you take him for a holiday you know she is just stressed out and you know these kids take so much stress. No one understands that you could be suffering just as you suffer from a physical illness. You could just be suffering from depression or schizophrenia or anxiety disorder or anything else.
Myths about Suicide
Are these the only causes of suicide no but literature shows us that two out of three people who are trying to kill themselves are depressed and what is even worse is that a lot of them are intoxicated at that time. One study showed that 75% of people who were trying to kill themselves were under the influence of alcohol and this is something that we are facing.
But there are so many myths about suicide which are going around in societies. The worst one is people who talk about suicide will not attempt it very far from the truth, in fact, people who kill themselves have spoken. At least seven out of ten people have given clear-cut indications to others and they are telling them that “I want to kill myself” but why are they telling them that because they actually want to be saved, they do not want to kill themselves, then, there are those who feel that oh if he’s talking about killing himself what can I do anyway he’s going to go and do it. That’s not true they want you to listen to them. They want you to listen to what they are saying and more than that what they are not saying.
So where are these people some of them are sitting in the house are locked up, cooped up, while their friends are all around and their only contact with the world, unfortunately, his social media. What they see is everyone’s having great lives and they are going through something horrible. Some of them are confused with their own sexuality they do not understand what is happening to them. They may wonder whether they are homosexual or whether they are bisexual and they do not even know who they can talk to, so they remain cooped up there. They do not like their bodies and they’re struggling with body image issues and they said they’re right there wondering what is to be done. Their parents try to reach out to them, parents love their kids, they want to reach out to them but what happens is that in teenagers depression can sometimes be expressed as anger or refusal to do anything so these are the kids who will not eat and they will not want to communicate with anyone else. Their grades start falling and then some go out there, and try to tell people that they do not want to live, and how do they say it? they just say that “oh you know by my next birthday you won’t see me here” or “you know it was great to know you” or suddenly they’ll come and give you a little gift or if you look at elderly people they might just want to wrap up all their businesses. You know of course our country has also seen financial stress and the number of suicides also increased, so this is an epidemic which is here and the best part about this is that I do not require millions of rupees to be spent.
Anyone can make a difference each one of you sitting with your friends, can make a difference by just paying attention to these signs.
As doctors you know whenever a baby is born there’s so much joy there’s so much rejoicing but 10% of these women go through depression and hardly any inquiry about their mental health. So what happens to this new mother, she starts feeling inadequate, she doesn’t know what to do and we read the newspapers a young lady jumps out with her child. That was just a postpartum depression or psychosis which was not looked at the lady gave us enough signals but we did not pick it up because nobody talks about suicide.
At any young death, you go there and people will discuss how cardiac illnesses have increased and then in hushed whispers, somebody will say do you think he killed himself, why hushed whispers? why do we even use the word committing suicide!
How to help a suicidal
Suicide was a crime, now it has been decriminalized and that is something that each one of us can help. How can we help?
We can help by just listening to the person. If somebody talks about killing themselves,
What do we do?
We get uncomfortable because we don’t know how to deal with them and we change the topic but just imagine if I had to have a heart attack right now…
Right now what would you do you would just leave everything else and rush me to the hospital but if somebody talks about killing themselves, just because we are uncomfortable, we say oh let’s talk about something else you know life is so beautiful and all of this…. and we change the topic and then we go back and either gossip with our loved ones but that is our own inadequacy.
But what can be done is something so simple, just leave whatever you’re doing, take the person to a corner and address the issue and the most important thing is to listen to them, to listen why, to listen to what they are saying, why are you feeling like this, allow them to talk, do not interrupt, give them a shoulder, look into their eyes and listen with your heart and give the person the confidence, that he or she can talk to you that you are going to listen to them, and you are going to do your best.
Even though you’re not a mental health professional, you are going to do your best to help them get to the other side. Do not leave the person alone to ensure that there is someone with them and make a conversation with them and tell them to come and meet you and understand why they are feeling like this, since when are they feeling like this and yes you may not have the answers.
I have seen suicidal individuals who come to me and say that “you know I don’t want to live and how can you change, I have a debt of X amount how can you change that for me” and I tell them I said yes you’re right I cannot change your debt but maybe we can sit and look at different options because I definitely believe that death is not the answer.
When you listen with your heart when you show them that you care that you give them the confidence that they can talk to you that they can get over their helplessness, their hopelessness, and their worthlessness.
What do you do next?
First of all, you convince them that they need to take help. There are a lot of mental health specialists in our country today who are willing to help them. You help them fight the stigma that it is smart to take help, just as you have malaria and dengue and you take help for that the same way you take help for mental illnesses and you are not even sure if it’s an illness or if it’s affairs of life but when you go with them and you give them that confidence and sit with them with the doctor or with the psychiatrist or the psychologist and keep a watch on them at least for the next three months.
This is something that you should never swear secrecy to because if someone is suicidal you know you must involve the family members but that does not mean that tomorrow if your friend comes and tells you that “you know I want to kill myself” does not mean that pick up the phone and start calling everybody else. It just means that first when they are comfortable then you take them to the next step and tell them that okay come on we need to involve your family, in this who do you trust.
There’s always one person in your family or friend circle that we trust and with the help of that person, you must help them in the recovery of their journey.
Points to remember
What are the things that we do not do when someone is suicidal?
- We don’t leave them alone
- We don’t gossip about them
- We don’t let them down
- We take them to a safe environment.
There’s been a lot of talk about keeping firearms away or getting rid of fans, of course, these things are not possible keeping firearms away at that moment helps, so taking them away to a safe place helps but at the same time what really helps them is helping them to reconsider.
A lot of us have felt suicidal at some point or the other and what did it take it took just one or two caring individuals to put a hand on our shoulder to comfort us, to understand us, not to give us lectures to help us tied over the crisis.
Today it is a national crisis that we are talking about, our schools, our doctors need to be equipped, our schools need counselors. As we do physical checkups we need mental health checkups in every company, in every school, in every college. We need to identify those who talk about being suicidal and then those who do not talk about it.
Does everyone suffer from depression?
No there could be those who are suffering from personality disorders. Depression is invisible. If you have a fracture you can see it, this is a fracture of the mind we can all see it if we open our eyes wide, if we open our hearts wide, if our arms are wide enough to gather them and lead them to help and stay with them. Death is not the answer, suicide is a cry for help, let’s help them, let’s get them to the other side.