September 11, 2023
Suicide is a leading preventable cause for death among the youth of our country. Suicide is one of the top 3 causes of death among people aged 15-25 years, much higher than illnesses like cancer or tuberculosis next only to deaths due to road traffic accidents. What is alarming about this? You ask? Many of these deaths are preventable and manageable with early identification and timely intervention.
Every year September 10 is celebrated as world suicide prevention day by the WHO and International association of suicide prevention. This year the theme is ‘creating hope through action’. On this occasion let us as responsible citizens of a nation with the largest population of youths in the world take a few minutes to understand how having conversations and actions can go a long way in saving lives. How we all in our various roles as family members, friends, co-workers, community members, educators, religious leaders, healthcare professionals, political officials, and governments- can take action to prevent suicide.
If you have lived long enough you know that the occasional thought of not wanting to live or wanting to die is part of everyone's lived experience. Turbulent times like loss of job, major changes in life, death of a close family member are all distinctively pressing times when such thoughts are not an uncommon human experience. Many of us fortunately find the required support or means to cope with these hardships in life. Many others may not be fortunate to find that means to cope or may feel too exhausted to immediately access required support systems (family, friends, and professional help).
Suicidal thoughts can be complexly linked with mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, mood changes, substance use and withdrawal states, impulsive behaviours, hopelessness, and personality styles. Suicidal thoughts can also occur in transient periods of decompensating that can occur to anyone even when they are not mentally ill.
Sachin observed that his colleague Sujay had been withdrawn and not his usual self. Sujay had taken off from work without informing anyone. Sachin invited Sujay for an evening tea and asked Sujay how he was and if all was well with him. Sujay reluctantly disclosed that he was going through tough times as his father was recently diagnosed with cancer and that he was not able to visit father often because of work schedule. A week later Sujay broke down and informed Sachin that he is taking leave and going as his father is quite unwell. Sachin supported him by offering to inform others and helping him adjust the schedule to accommodate the duties. Sujay felt comforted with the help.
Sujay had to extend his leave and came back to work after a month due to the death of his father. After a few weeks over their tea break Sachin asked Sujay how he was coping. Sujay said that he was not able to sleep well and needed to have a couple of drinks at night to cope but was hoping to get better. Sujay was a bit irregular to work in the weeks to follow. Sachin would occasionally call Sujay to check on him. Sachin asked Sujay to come with him during the evenings for a walk and shared with him his experience of having lost his mother during the pandemic.
Monday night, Sachin got a call from Sujay quite late and intoxicated. Sujay was crying and expressing how he had not been a good son and had failed to help his father and how he did not want to live like this. Sachin asked where Sujay was, asked him not to be alone, and as Sujay was staying away from his family and alone asked him to come over to his house to sleep it out for the night.
Helping them Connect:
Next morning Sachin suggested Sujay to meet his friend who was a mental health professional. Sujay apologised that it was his dad’s birthday yesterday and that he had unfortunately had a few extra drinks that night. Sachin informed Sujay that he was worried for him and that he should not hesitate to take help if things are not getting better.
Sachin and Sujay would often catch up over tea in the evenings after work. A week later Sujay requested Sachin to send the number of the counsellor. Sachin offered to go along with him for the first visit. Sachin was glad to give back the help he received from his cousin when he was coping with his mother’s loss.
Suicide prevention needs de-stigmatization of mental health and increased community participation and active volunteering. Having spaces for individuals to express their journeys safely and recollect and cherish the help they received goes a long way in creating awareness and generating hope. Suicide prevention in students and children is also the need of the hour with mental health and counselling services being made available at various levels like schools, community centres etc.
As a mental health professional I would like to express my gratitude to many of such friends, family, colleagues, neighbours, and members of the community who were there sometimes outside the clinic, in the consultation room, making a call to book appointments and in many small conversations and prompt actions helping work others through their crisis.