Skip to main content

Right to Survival...

There was a spurt in suicides by farmers in Telangana last week. Worldwide  800,000  people commit suicide every year. Of these 1,35,000  [17%] are Indians! ]
By: T.K Thomas,   Oct 24, 2017

Recently, an addiction prevention expert and activist  and chairman of NADA India Foundation Suneel Vatsyayan  who works on mental health issues was interacting with a large number of marginalized children in the Mangolpuri area of the National Capital organized by Dr.  A.V.Baliga Trust. As part of the session he showed them a recent television interview with popular Hindi film actress Deepika Padukune. The focus of the programme was on the screen diva’s experience and views on depression. The children reacted differently and one of their unanimous reactions was their consternation at a celebrity like Deepika suffering from depression. It was beyond their comprehension as to how such a leading actor and daughter of a former World Badminton Champion who is adored by millions and has everything and leads a high profile life of opulence in the lap of luxury could suffer from depression. They were under the impression that depression was synonymous with poverty and deprivation and affected the poor and the needy. The mental health expert explained to them that depression does not discriminate between the rich and the poor and transcends all barriers.

One of the major scourges of modern man across the globe is depression. Depression is a ‘’neurotic or psychotic disorder marked by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent in sleeping, feelings of rejection and hopelessness and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”[ Encyclopedia   Britannica ]. Mankind has been plagued by depression since the days of the father of modern medicine, Greek physician Hippocrates [460-377 B.C]. In fact he considered ‘Father of Modern Medicine’ called depression ‘melancholia’. Depression continues to haunt modern man.  According to the American Association of Suicidology, depression is the psychiatric diagnosis, most commonly associated with suicides. Lifetime risk for depression ranges from 6.7% overall to 40% in men and 30% in women. Depression is reportedly present at least 50% of all suicide and those suffering from depression are at 25 times greater risk for suicide than general population. These indeed are frightening figures in a country with inadequate mental health services.

The National Crime Records Bureau’s Report for 2015 on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India in its chapter on suicides makes the following observations:-“Each suicide is a personal tragedy that prematurely takes the life of an individual and has a continuing ripple effect, dramatically affecting the lives of families, friends and communities. Every year more than 1,00,000 people commit suicide in our country’”, The causes for suicides, according to the Report include professional/career problems, discrimination, sense of isolation, violence, family problems, mental disorders, addiction to alcohol, financial loss, chronic pain etc. The states with highest number of suicides are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

The tiny state of Sikkim has a major problem of suicides.  One was in Sikkim for over a year and was extremely happy to be in one of the most prosperous, peaceful and clean state with salubrious climate blessed by nature. Beneath the serenity there was a strange feature of young people committing suicide. Unemployment and unattainable levels of aspirations probably have an impact on the happy go lucky youth of Sikkim to be prone to suicidal tendencies.  The popularity of Korean television serials, the lifestyle and fashion portrayed in them and identifying with the Korean serial characters might have a negative impact on the youth there. The Sikkim Police, incidentally, has a helpline to help those who have suicidal tendencies.

Think of newspaper headlines on suicides. In 1991 following the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination in Sriperambadur in Tamil Nadu, there was a manhunt for the main accused Sivarasan and six of his accomplices. The investigating team had definite information that the fugitives were holed up in a building near Bangalore. By the time the team entered the building Sivarasan had shot himself on the head and the six others had swallowed cyanide capsules and committed suicide. These seven suicides hit the headlines the next day and many days following that day. The stories were more about the commando operation and graphic details about the futile chase. Of course there were some information about the seven people who committed suicide and a few media discussed the motivation and determination of the LTTE cadres who did not want to surrender and instead preferred taking their own lives. Only a psychologist or psychiatrist can explain that motivation and mindset.

The following headings may sound familiar to you. “Telangana man Slits Wife’s Throat in front of Children and Attempts Suicide”; “Man Kills, Wife and two Children and then kills himself”, “Student Jumps from High rise Apartments : Suicide suspected”, “Rape Victim Commits Suicide” `etc. There may be some details given by the police or eye witnesses in the stories, but the human tragedy or the motive behind the sordid tales may generally be absent.  No one seems to be interested in investigating whether those suicides could be prevented. We also see with some regularity about ‘Fidayeen attacks or attacks by suicide squads. Here they are fired by whatever ideology they believe and a rare determination to lay down one’s life. Some think that they are sacrificing for a cause or it is for a divine reward.

Ritualistic suicides were in vogue in the days of yore in Japan. The Samurai or warrior who failed to accomplish a task for his emperor or country practiced a custom called ‘Seppuku’ or ‘Hara kiri’. They did self embowelment  of a ritual suicide by jumping face down on a sword. This was also done when disgraced, as a way to protect honour or to demonstrate loyalty.  In the ancient practice of Sati a widow would commit suicide by jumping into the funeral pyre of her husband.  This had religious or cultural approval till it was banned in 1829 by Governor General William Bentinck under pressure from social reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy.  

The legal, ethical, religious and moral aspects of Euthanasia or mercy killing [considered doctor assisted suicide] of terminally ill patients are being debated in many countries including ours where there are demands for legalizing the practice. Countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg have already given legal sanction to Euthanasia.

The media often tend to sensationalize suicides as interesting news items without bothering much about the human beings affected by the suicide by an individual. If the victims of suicides are celebrities media would have very detailed investigative reporting and hype such coverage. Stories on the human, preventive or awareness creating aspects of suicides are rarities.   Some channels did interview Deepika Padukone, probably because of the star value. It was indeed thoughtful of her to speak candidly and admit that she has had a problem of depression and that she had sought medical help. It would have helped many people to realize that depression is a mental health issue that requires treatment.  Media especially the news channels which spend precious prime time discussing inane subjects also have a social responsibility to inform and educate the average citizen about the growing tendency in the country for people to commit suicide. The fact is that if people have to be told that a majority of suicides are preventable if proper and timely counseling is provided after identifying people with suicidal tendencies.

It is not just the media but the civil society organizations, peer support groups, educational institutions and religious institutions which can help prevent at least a limited number of suicides. As a majority of suicide cases are of students and young people, focus has to be on these groups. It is heartening that a large number of schools have counselors. There are civil society initiatives of help lines like Aasra[ Mumbai], I Call [Mumbai], Sneha[Chennai], Nagpur Suicide Prevention helpline, Connecting India[Pune], Sumaitri [New Delhi], Lifeline Foundation[Kolkata] , Thanal, Prathyasa,  Prateeksha[ all in Kerala]etc. These online services provide counseling services to the needy.

With resources and volunteers, religious organizations can do a lot in preventing suicides and helping families of those who have committed suicide. Priests and religious leaders have credibility in their communities and their messages could be based on their holy scriptures. Hinduism considers suicide as spiritually unacceptable and as a violation of the code of Ahimsa. While in Jainism any killing –self inflicted or otherwise is the worst form of Himsa. Christian tenet is that ‘thou shall not murder’ and suicide is murder of the self. Again, suicide is the rejection of God’s gift of physical life. According to the Quran, ’And Do not kill yourselves’ does not approve of suicides. Worshipping houses are the right places to effectively advice and counsel gullible young people.  

According to Suneel Vatsyayan at   the policy planning levels there appears to be a statistics oriented approach whereas what is needed is clear psycho, social and medical solutions to problems like depression, suicide, addiction and a host of other mental health issues. Of course earlier this month World Mental Health Day was observed and World Congress of Mental Health is being held in Delhi from 3-5 November. Such events can bring to sharp public focus, mental health issues including human rights especially the right to survival.


Popular posts from this blog

Drug Free........ and Healthy India?

OPINIONDrug Free India?.......Prof. T K Thomas 26 Feb, 2019 
Two weeks back, this column carried a piece entitled “Hooch Victims: Not Just Numbers!” about death of over 40 people after drinking illicit liquor. A bigger hooch tragedy last week killed over 150 tea garden workers and over 300 hospitalized for critical care in Assam’s Golaghat. A friend asked why such frequent occurrence of hooch tragedies and deaths of poor and marginalized people and why no action is being taken to prevent such tragedies. Familiar with the problem of addiction in the country, he wondered why the government was more concerned about drug addiction and not on alcohol addiction. It took some time to explain to him how the two problems were being handled by two separate ministries of the government of India-Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment for drugs and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for alcohol.
Last week on 19th February, the Prime Minister through a video address launched a campaign for …

Youth first to make the universal health coverage a reality....

Prof.T K Thomas
04 Jun, 2019 
“with the growing young population in India, it becomes extremely important to involve youth and understand their needs at the policy level. This can help them to effectively deal with the cross cutting issues like linkages between alcoholism, tobacco use and tuberculosis. The government must make the political decision to put youth first to make the universal health coverage a reality.”The annual World No Tobacco Day was observed on 31st May. The day is observed by the World Health Organization [WHO] and global partners as an opportunity to raise awareness on the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure and to discourage the use of tobacco in any form. This year’s focus for the day was, “Tobacco and lung health”. Everyone knows how tobacco affects our lungs. The WHO release says, the campaign will increase awareness on, “the negative impact that tobacco has on people’s lung health, from cancer, to chronic respiratory diseases…

Nada India’s youth advocate @pre NCD Alliance Forum youth workshop in Sharjah

Nada India at the Second Global NCD Alliance Forum (7-11 December 2017) On December 7-11, Nada India’s youth advocate Vindhya was at the pre forum youth workshop and the second Global NCD Alliance Forum in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates! The second Global NCD Alliance Forum was organized by the NCD Alliance (NCDA) in partnership with local host organization, Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP). 350 members of the NCD movement from 68 countries attended the Forum from 9 – 11 December in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. This year, an increased number of youth delegates and people living with NCDs participated in this unique event, which reflected the Forum’s objective to promote the engagement of the next generation and people living with NCDs as central parts of the NCD movement. Vindhya was among the 22 youth delegates who called on their peers, CSO and government to step up the pace on NCDs.The enthusiasm and engagement of 22 youth delegates was reflected in the Youth Call to Action produced…