Sinking emotional quotient: A suicide attempt every 4 minutes

(Oct 10 is World Mental Health Day)

By Madhulika Sonkar, IANS,

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New Delhi : The tattered printout of an email, a blood-soaked bedsheet and the laptop screen flashing an image from the Facebook account left open is all that 26-year-old Shivani Mhatre remembers about the night of April 2, 2011.

Mhatre’s family was busy catching the India vs Sri Lanka cricket match of the World Cup finale on television when Shivani, a marketing executive, made an unsuccessful attempt to end her life over a failed relationship.

“At that given time and moment, it meant the end of life. He (boyfriend) wanted time to build his career and was not ready for marriage. My parents wanted me to get married,” Mhatre confessed, her kohl-smeared eyes full of tears as she recalled the fateful night when she lay unconscious with a slashed wrist before her parents found her.

“I have moved on since that day… but a minute of impulsiveness made me spoil my career. I scarred the faith my parents had in me…,” she told IANS. Sharing a two-room apartment with her parents in south Delhi’s Amar Colony, Shivani changed her job to avoid stigma, legal proceedings and uncomfortable questions.

Mhatre is not alone. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2009 report leaves a chilling statistic of 15 suicides every hour in the country, with one in three victims aged between 15 and 29 years. The age group is resorting to suicides as the emotional quotient dips and impulsiveness rides high, say experts as Oct 10 is observed as World Mental Health Day.

“If we take the population size between 15 and 29 years, we have four suicide attempts per minute in India. Everything has changed, from the lethality of methods used to the reasons – urban areas have terribly gone wrong in reading the young minds,” Sunil Mittal, senior consultant, psychiatry and psychotherapy at the Delhi Psychiatry Centre, told IANS.

“There are aspirations and the inability to cope with shattered dreams. When you are young, you are short-tempered, judgmental, impulsive and tolerance is low,” Mittal added.

Problems ranging from a broken relationship to financial crunch are causing mental health disorders like depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. Gender, say experts, has a lot to do with the reasons over which a person goes for suicide.

“Suicide comes later. Before that, there is a lot playing in the head of any person with suicidal tendencies. For women, emotional reasons count more, but for men it is the financial world and dependent family that could be the reason,” Mittal explained.

The NCRB report also pointed out that social and economic causes led most of the males to commit suicide, while emotional and personal causes drove women to end their lives. States such as Jharkhand, Bihar and Orissa reported far fewer suicides that the metropolitan cities.

“If you take into account the existent rural and urban divide, then this could be logical. But the reporting of suicide is not common in India because there is a stigma associated with it. When someone attempts suicide, the family prefers to bury the matter quickly without involving the police,” said Rajesh Sagar, assistant professor at the psychiatry department of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).

Interestingly, farmer suicides had shot up by seven percent between 2008 and 2009, with nearly 17,368 cases reported across the country.

Experts blame the communication gap and individualistic lives that the youngsters are leading for suicides in a section of society.

“Upbringing these days is amidst verticals such as stiff competition and rush. When we see parents coming to us at the AIIMS, we notice the sense of reward is missing. Adolescents are diagnosed with high-risk behaviour that can later take the shape of suicide,” Sagar told IANS, adding that “supervision and the communication bridge between parents and children is nowhere to be seen”.

Sagar added: “This is just one aspect of it. At AIIMS, we try and tell families that give the person who has attempted suicide a chance. Suicide itself denotes that the person was desperate to find a way out and cried for help.”

Even as the World Health Organisation (WHO) notes that depression, one of the causes of suicide, will be the second-most prevalent condition worldwide by 2020, experts say the thrust lies on decriminalsing suicide.

“It’s high time we decriminalised suicide. The problem is cases of suicide or attempts at suicide are under-reported due to fear of medico-legal cases,” Mittal said. “Even if they are reported, there might not be much persecution, but the person is stigmatised for the entire life.”

(Madhulika Sonkar can be contacted at [email protected])