Acceptance, understanding and healthcare to those struggling with suicidal thoughts and feelings can go a long way in prevention.

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Health Mental Health Thursday, September 10, 2020 - 18:56

Early this morning, two charred bodies of two people were found in Palam village in Nalgonda district of Telangana. Based on the ID proofs found at the spot, they were identified as Ashwini and Sheikh Masthan Ali. According to the police, based on preliminary information, the duo was working in Hyderabad, had eloped, and decided to end their lives. On Wednesday evening, a family of four in Visakhapatnam decided to end their lives by hanging, in a room they had rented in a lodge. They left behind a note which mentioned that they were taking their lives as they were unable to bear the financial burden of debts. On Tuesday late evening, 26-year-old popular Telugu actor Sravani Kondapalli died by suicide.

These are just some of the many incidents of suicide that have come to light over the last couple of days in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. But this isn’t a problem that is specific to these two states, it is something that is prevalent across the world. In India, according to statistics released last week by the National Crime Records Bureau, 1,39,123 people died by suicide in 2019. This was higher than 2018 by 3.4%. It was also found that one-third of all the suicides were due to family problems. Of the total, 8.2% suicides were due to unemployment, poverty and financial crisis.

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and for the third year, the theme is ‘working together to prevent suicide’. One aspect of prevention is also to do away with misconceptions prevalent about suicide so that those vulnerable can find acceptance, and access appropriate social and healthcare support. Here are some of the common myths, busted.

Myth 1 - Mental health issues and depression are the only causes of suicide.

Indeed, according to Roshni, a voluntary organization in Hyderabad that provides support to people living with depression and suicide ideation, depression is the most common mental health issue reported in people who die by suicide. However, Dr Soumitra Pathare, Director of Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, says that depression too is a result of several other life factors and events that could contribute to a person taking an extreme step.

That being said, nine out of 10 people living with depression will not attempt suicide, Dr Soumitra said. “In the West, 80% of suicides have depression as a predisposing cause. However, India’s suicide epidemiology is different. In India, only 50% have been diagnosed with a mental illness. There are several factors like alcohol abuse, domestic violence, education stress, alternative sexuality, caste discrimination, economic distress etc. that could contribute to suicide.”

Myth 2 - Talking about suicide is a bad idea and may be seen as encouragement.

However, according to the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy (CMHLP) talking about suicide not only helps reduce the stigma but also encourages people struggling to seek help. As part of a series called #JourneysOfHopeAndResilience, the institute has been sharing videos of people from various walks of life sharing their stories of how they had overcome suicidal thoughts and coped. They are sharing these videos with the hope that it will help reduce the stigma and will encourage those suffering to take the first step of seeking support.

Myth 3 - A person who is suicidal is determined to die.

According to Dr Soumitra Pathare, contrary to this popular belief, persons with suicide ideation don’t necessarily want to die. Emotional support at the right time can help prevent suicide. It is to help people in this frame of mind that suicide prevention centres and helpline numbers have been set up.

Myth 4 - Suicide happens out of nowhere, without warning.

But as per research, most suicides are preceded by warning signs, either verbal or behavioural. Most people will want to talk to friends, relatives or doctors about wanting to die. This is a very important sign that should not be ignored.

As part of a message in the run up to World Suicide Prevention Day, Nagesh Sood, Honorary Secretary, Befrienders India, a national association of suicide prevention centres, says that each of us have an important role to play. “Suicide prevention is possible and it can be done by spreading awareness about the issue, educating everyone about the cause of suicide and the warning signs of suicide. Compassion and care can help prevent suicides.”

There are some people who miss these warning signs and pass it off as something that the person who talks about it will never do. The fact is that people who talk about suicide may be reaching out for help; and should not be shut down, but listened to patiently and given access to mental healthcare, experts say.

Myth 5 - Suicidal feelings are permanent i.e. once a person is suicidal, they will always remain suicidal.

“Suicidal thoughts are not permanent,” counters Dr Soumitra. “Many individuals with suicidal thoughts, go on to live a long life, even if they have attempted to end their lives. This is possible if they get support at the right time.”

In one of the videos shared by CMHLP, Parno Mittra, a 33-year-old actor who is known for portraying strong female characters on screen shared her suicide story. She said, “When I was growing up, I attempted suicide, it is not something I am now very proud of. I did it and it was really hard because you just want the pain to end. You go to sleep feeling numb inside. You just feel worthless and you feel the world can’t understand you. I would call up helplines and talk to them, that was the only way.”

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