Every life Matters
In volatile social conditions, most of us live on the edge, hanging in there. But some fall off the edge to resort to the extreme step of committing...
In volatile social conditions, most of us live on the edge, hanging in there. But some fall off the edge to resort to the extreme step of committing suicide. A few years ago, a majority of those who killed themselves A were the middle aged who complained of financial difficulties. But now, it is more and more young people, who stand isolated in a rapidly changing social situation. Their stress stems from a whole range of new factors from academic stress to love failure to drug use and alcoholism. Empathy can alone help, opine psychiatrists and helpline counsellors Usha Turaga Revelli No religious commandments warning of a great burden of sin to be carried forward across births, no threat of laws that slap charges on you if you fail at failure. No thought of imminent loss for a family on losing a bread winner, someone losing a life partner or a father or a mother. No fear of the unknown or of pain. Nothing, nothing apparently stops a person from taking his/her life when life seems not worth living any more. At the moment, all that is sought is cessation � of breath, of pain, of existence. And a permanent obliteration of an identity. In 2011, 15,077 people committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh, amounting to more than 11 per cent of total suicides in India. AP reported 15 mass, family suicides in the same year. In 2011, the rate of suicides in AP � number of suicides per every lakh of population - has been 17.8 per cent, one of the highest in the country. The National Crime Records Bureau in its report on Suicides and Accidental Deaths for 2011 shows an increasing rate in the last decade from 2001, with an increase of one percentage point for every lakh of population. The report cites illness, family problems, bankruptcy, HIV/AIDS, domestic violence, poverty, failed love affairs etc as the main reasons for the suicides. There was a time when people prone to suicides had a fairly homogenous profile but no longer, say psychologists. Suicides are reported from various sections of society, from students to employees, housewives to domestic violence victims, businessmen to cops, the elderly to school kids. In volatile social conditions that we live in, most of us live on the edge, hanging in there. But some fall off the edge. Who does? "A few years back, most people who approached us for help were in the middle age, usually complaining of financial difficulties. But now it is more and more young people, who stand isolated in a rapidly changing social situation. Their stress stems from a whole range of new factors from academic stress to love failure to drug use and alcoholism," says Dr Indla Rama Subba Reddy, well-known psychiatrist from Vijayawada. Last month, Andhra Pradesh High Court expressed concern at the rising incidence of suicides among University students in Hyderabad. Taking cognizance of media reports, the High Court ordered the Government to conduct an enquiry. The Central Board of Secondary Education, on the other hand, established a tele-counseling system and has subsequently in a circular asked its associated schools to appoint a full-time counselor in all schools in order to aid students during the critical examination period. The Universty Grants Commission (UGC) has also ordered an independent enquiry a few days back into the suicide cases recorded in state educational institutions recently. In the past three years, a total of 49 suicides were recorded in the state out of which about 15% were from city colleges and universities. It is not just the academic pressure though that takes a toll on young lives, says Ananda Diwakar, Deputy Director, Roshni Helpline. Fear of failure, relationships gone wrong, emulation of dubious role models, emphasis on recreation rather than relationships, lack of support mechanisms within the family structure and many other external factors create negative pressure that pushes young people in the direction of a drastic step, she says. "The World Health Organisation has estimated that a suicide happens every 20 seconds somewhere in the world. In India, it is one every two hours and in AP it is estimated that eight people commit suicide every day. The significance of these numbers goes up when we look at the age group of the victims. It is 15-44 years, with more males ending their life than females," Ananda says. Emotional despair coupled with external factors push a person to attempt to kill himself/herself but there is always a window period, through which a person can be pulled back from the brink. "Realistically speaking, it is impossible to prevent suicides 100 per cent. At least 40-60 per cent of suicides are among those with psychiatric disorders, who are prone to major depression episodes and suicidal tendencies. I would say some 15 per cent would be because of momentary impulse. It is only the rest that are preventable through some timely intervention," explains Dr Ram Subba Reddy. Roshni Helpline, a classic support service working since 1997, is an associate of a world-wide network and has 14 centres across India, with the Hyderabad centre having a volunteer base of 67 at the moment. Ananda Diwakar explains how Roshni works. A caller to the helpline is received by a volunteer 'Befriender', who asks for no details or personal questions but simply initiates a conversation to put the caller at ease first. "The essential process is listening, with empathy, in a non-judgmental way. We do not counsel or offer advice or solutions. Our strategy is to simply listen, encourage the caller to talk to the extent that he or she relaxes, their perspective improves and they themselves find the solution." Roshni has a code by which they slot a caller. While zero would be a case of depression, Two would be a category that is identified as high-risk. High risk is defined as someone with a definite intention, mentions a clear plan to end his/her life, specifying the means. "While confidentiality is the non-negotiable principle for Roshni, when we identify a case as high risk, we cajole the caller to postpone his plan and ask for his contact number, promising to get back. We sometimes trace the call, call an ambulance or seek other kinds of intervention in such cases." Roshni gets about 600 calls in a month. Apart from emotional issues, a recent trend that social scientists find rather disturbing is dying for a cause, a form of suicide that does not find legitimacy in official records. "It is a tricky phenomenon and the recent Telangana movement is a classic example. While political parties claim that hundreds of young people sacrificed their lives for the cause, cops dismiss it, saying there is no veracity to the claims," says a political analyst. Certainly a number of cases are genuine, motivated by real despair but it is also possible glorification of those deaths motivated certain others, he says. Other patterns that are equally disquieting are socially motivated suicides of farmers and weavers and other vulnerable populations. Experts say the solution is obvious and suicides can be prevented many years before it is actually attempted. All that is needed is a strategy applied on various levels. The existing support mechanisms are far from adequate though and the expertise of some of the counselling personnel and agencies in doubt. "What is needed is that suicide should be recognised as a public health issue," says Dr Ram Subba Reddy. There is a need for a public health strategy, for a comprehensive and concise public health education programme in schools and colleges, he says. "Including the issue in school curriculum where we give the kids a proper perspective, introduce them to potential stress situations in future life is imperative," says Ananda. "I think parents are the first support mechanism and it is for them to nurture emotional quotient, not just intelligence quotient." Also needed are trained counsellors, material that educates people, outreach into the darkest nooks and corners of the cities and minds and help a call away. As statistics indicate that psychological disorders are among the major causes, what hinders any effort to prevent suicidal tendencies among the depressed is the social stigma attached to medical treatment for psychiatric disorders. "It is important to scale up psychiatric treatment facilities," adds Dr Reddy. Swarup Reddy (name changed) is a suicide survivor. He walked back from the brink, literally dumping the electric cable he picked up to hang himself. "It is a desperation that is hard to express in words. But, at the critical moment, something snapped inside me and I wanted to re-think. And I went straight to a counselling centre and they listened to me." Swarup now is a volunteer with a helpline that helps women in distress. It is a matter of exactly a fraction of a second. Between despair and hope. Between a sense of proportion and distortion. Between motion and stillness. Between life and death. And all it takes is a chance to ventilate, to talk, to share and to have someone understand. And it is this miniscule gap that is needed to be filled up to prevent a deviance that has dogged society for centuries.