Many things had to go wrong for a suicide to happen and there was no single, simple reason for it, said Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, founder, Sneha Suicide Prevention Centre, adding that rejection and shame, when self-esteem was at the lowest, were the strongest reasons for suicide by a youngster in India. She was speaking at a virtual discussion in November conducted by the Press Institute of India and the UNICEF State Office for Tamil Nadu and Kerala on the subject, Don’t Let Suicide Catch Them Young. Every year, upwards of 130000 Indians died of suicide, Dr Vijayakumar pointed out, with the majority of suicides happening among the young. She said it was a huge public health problem that must be addressed. She urged the media to portray suicides with sensitivity – when it was shown that people could solve problems, suicides had been found to reduce, she said. “Unconditional acceptance is important without being judgmental. You need to make sure the person chooses life instead of death.”
Senior psychiatrist Dr N. Rangarajan said people in the younger age group were under a lot of pressure, with their confidence being undermined by several factors – academic pressure, the pressure to excel, for example. He said more people were willing today to come and talk about their mental problems and more were willing to take medicines. Although there was a lot of “family time” now thanks to COVID, parents tended to get impatient with children and were not able to cope, and children were now being exposed to abusive behaviour at home, he said.
Bino Thomas, associate professor, NIMHANS, referred to the psychological aspect that led to suicides, what he termed as a “diagnostic mental illness at the time of committing suicide” – the lack of ability to solve problems, having to cope with rejection and being afraid of mental issues as such. Aarti C. Rajaratnam, psychologist and founder, Million Smiles, stressed that listening to the person having a problem and guiding them through the process was the most important. Ragini Srinivasan, counsellor, said it was important that various caregivers worked together and supported each other, with therapy and medication being two parts of the whole solution. She alluded to change in behaviour and social withdrawal as warning signs and urged parents to notice such signs in children when they started showing up.
Aaryyan Aathreya, a student of law, said the COVID pandemic had helped him to bring things in perspective. Missing out on school and college years was making it difficult for students. He flagged the need to decriminalise suicide. Dr Vijayakumar said her organisation was working to decriminialise suicide the past several years, adding that in only 20 countries in the world was ‘attempted suicide’ a criminal offence. She said that the majority of suicides in India happened in rural areas where mental health services were not present. The discussion was moderated by advocate and columnist Sanjay Pinto.