There are millions of people who lose their life to suicide across the nation and world. In 2016, WHO reported that every year 1.3 lakh people lose their life. More Indian women die by suicide as compared to their female counterparts in the rest of the world. And in 43% of the cases the causes are unknown. This lack of information and these high numbers can partly be explained by the stigma that prohibits open conversations about suicide and impedes individuals from seeking the help they may need.
India has a complicated history with suicide. It has taken until 2017 when constitutional amendments and committees around mental health policies were formed for decriminalisation of suicide to finally occur in India. Because of this history, stigma around suicide is inevitable and deeply entrenched in our culture. I’m sure you remember the movie “3 Idiots” which tried to shed light on this topic in 2009. But stigma is the great silencer and conversations around suicide did not pick up again until the recent death of the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The rampant stigma acts like a muzzle – the very individuals who are struggling with these dark and lonely thoughts are the least likely to talk about their problems.
You can start to breakdown this wall of silence and give a voice to those who are struggling. You can take the first steps in helping someone by simply by asking them how they are feeling. If you think your loved one needs help and is going through a tough time in their life, talk to them – remove that muzzle by asking them what is going on.
Start the Conversation
By starting the conversation, you can show your loved one that you care and are concerned for them. To get started, you can ask question like:
- How are you doing lately?
- I feel you haven’t been yourself lately and I was wondering if you’re okay?
Try to create a comfortable and safe space for your loved one. Convey non-judgement by truly listening to their feelings and struggles with suicidality. If they seem hesitant to talk, carefully nudge them to share just a little bit of what they are going through, of what is going through their minds. Do not let yourself off the hook by accepting their “I’m fine” response.
Sitting next to your loved one and really listening to them can be very powerful – you convey support by being available to them and care by patiently listening to their story. By creating this space, you can help your loved one feel heard, loved, and less alone.
As important as it is to be open and to listen, it is also important to avoid certain things. While having a discussion revolving around suicide, avoid minimizing the problems by making comments such as “this is a passing phase”, “these thoughts are not a big deal”, or “just snap out of this negative thinking”. Try to avoid jumping into problem-solver mode as the issues often do not have an easy or readily available solution. And always remember, thoughts or attempts of suicide is not a sign of cowardice or selfishness. Suicidal thoughts are a sign of real struggle and such low feelings that challenges feel insurmountable and life does not possible to go on.
No one ‘commits’ suicide - attempting suicide is not a crime and dying by suicide is not the same as committing a crime. Words are powerful tools, and when talking about suicide, phrases such as “attempts suicide” or “has died by suicide” rather than “commit suicide” can also start to break the stigma around suicide
Lastly, you are also not alone. Sometimes the best thing for your loved one is to connect to a trained mental health professional who can provide support during these challenging times. Our team at Veera can connect your loved one to mental health professionals trained in helping keep them safe and who can start to treat the underlying causes of the suicidal ideation or behavior.
Reviewed & Edited by Rohini Bagrodia, Ph.D. in training, Clinical Psychologist
2] Sirur, S., Here, P., -, S., -, B., & -, T. (2019, October 10). Many suicides can be prevented, if India breaks silence on mental health. Retrieved January 23, 2021, from https://theprint.in/features/suicides-prevention-india-mental-health/303709/