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Time To Destigmatize Suicide

Given the socio-political-economic climate we are presently residing in, the responsibility resides with each one of us to initiate these conversations and be allies to those dealing with mental issues.

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India has the largest number of suicides in the world, with one suicide occurring every four minutes. Suicides also go unreported in the country because families are hesitant to record the cause of death as suicide because of the heavy stigma associated with it. India now accounts for over a third of the world’s annual female suicides and nearly a fourth of male suicides, a significant increase in its global share from 1990.[1]

Ending the stigma surrounding suicide is key to starting a fruitful conversation on suicide prevention. But then again, identifying mental health diagnosis as the only explanation for why someone chose to die by suicide makes it difficult for them to come out to friends and family. The fear looms on how they may be treated - like a ticking bomb.

Given the socio-political-economic climate we are presently residing in, the responsibility resides with each one of us to initiate these conversations and be allies to those dealing with mental issues. The question remains to be answered, how can we best do this?

  • While the conversation in the public domain today is rife around suicide survivors, success case studies, celebrity suicides and tragic deaths - the emphasis still needs to be on contextualizing the issue at hand in order to open the door for more people to feel safe when they do choose to discuss or come approach to talk
  • The language which is used to describe suicide needs to be stripped of judgement or shame while keeping empathy intact. People “commit” rapes and murders, not suicide. Rather phrases like “died by suicide” or “completed suicide” should be used. The phrase “committed suicide” finds its genesis in history where it is equated with immoral or offensive behavior. The last thing we should be doing is passing judgement on someone in enough pain to try and take their own life.
  • Humans are curious beings. Our hunt to find answers in the know of a suicide or a national tragedy often shuns the need to mourn. Sadness is an emotion and people should feel safe to express it.
  • Suicide is often thought of as a gender-neutral issue, but in reality, it’s a problem that affects men far more than women. This is due to a lot of factors – men don’t seek care, gender stereotypes and delayed self-acceptance. It is also observed that men who adhere more strongly to masculine ideals see getting psychological help more negatively

The Indian government in 2017 decriminalized attempts to suicide by passing the Mental Healthcare Act, however, there is still a long way to go and a large room for the government to push for a national suicide prevention strategy. A four-points recommendation for the creation and implementation of a national suicide prevention strategy would be (a) Data vetting and identifying demographics will be important to educate and prevent suicides. Unlike the West, in India people die by suicide for reasons which are not typically mental illness. (b) Some of the most common methods of suicide include consuming pesticide, hanging, and self-immolation. An effective way to reduce rates of suicide is to reduce access to these substances and means. (c) Political will and interest not to use suicide as a blanket response to mental illness and vice-versa. (d) National education drive to inform citizens of a 24/7 suicide crisis helpline that supports all major languages and of a crisis text line (SMS/WhatsApp).

It's a collective responsibility of the society to re-define what it means for a person who feels prompted to take their own life. Individuals should be able to come forward and discuss the topic with neither judgment nor shame; and mental health providers can act as a support system by developing a safety plan. Talking about suicide, and destigmatizing it helps and is the best way to initiate prevention. The sooner people start to remove the stigma, the sooner more lives will be saved and pulled out of distress.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr. Anil Sharma

Clinical Director of Mom's Belief

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