Following a spate of techie suicides in the city, Anusha Parthasarathy and Lakshmi Krupa find out from experts what prompts young professionals to take this extreme step and what can be done to prevent it.

You’ve known them for a long time. Everything seems all right with them and then one day you read about it in the papers. Yet another 20-something, a seemingly successful techie, has taken a cold-blooded decision to end his life. And then you wonder if you’ve really known them.

How do you conclude that a friend or a family member needs help? When do you intervene and what can you do? Experts talk about handling stress in the wake of a spate of techie suicides in the city.

Rajani Nandakumar, a counsellor, says, “When you have known someone for a while and notice them withdrawing from social life; when they no longer find joy in even the simplest of things in life; when they have recently experienced failure — professional or personal — or a failed relationship, that’s the time to intervene. You can gently ask them if they need to talk. Just that will help in most cases.” In case you find their problem is too complex for you to handle, you can suggest that they seek professional help. “Counsellors are trained to listen and guide those who are in extreme distress,” Rajani adds.

Workshops for techies

Sneha, a suicide prevention helpline, has been conducting workshops on stress management and depression in BPOs and IT companies for the last five years. Says Shankaranarayanan, media co-ordinator: “The common triggers for suicidal tendencies among IT professionals, we have noticed, are work pressure, financial instability, deadlines, team-related issues, loneliness and relationship trouble.” Sneha regularly receives calls from those in the 25–30 age group. “Many of these professionals are located at places away from home and are homesick. There’s also the problem of language. We give them emotional support and keep everything confidential. Most often, all they need is a patient listener.”

S. Venkatesan from Personnel Search Services, a HR services firm, says, “These are high-pressure jobs with strict deadlines and often dealing with big names and tending to focus more on brand value than the issues of these troubled employees.” He also feels that many big firms are in denial of the fact that there could be something wrong with their employees’ emotional balance. However, it’s not always work-related stress, he insists. “I know of a really smart, independent, woman who had a fight with her spouse. The very next morning she committed suicide. It was most unfortunate. These are people who need someone to tell them that patience pays and things will get better. Most importantly, that taking their lives is not a wise decision and they should consider what their family will go through.”

Lack of social capital

City-based author Rekha Shetty, who has written books like The Happiness Quotient feels such incidents happen because of the lack of social capital in people’s lives. “These days, we do not have a network of very close friends; and as a result loneliness has become a major epidemic of our times. Joint families have disappeared and everyone has moved away from home to build careers. There is no time to talk or build relationships and we are becoming islands. I deal with innovation initiatives and keep in touch with brilliant minds across the country but they all tell me they want to retire by the time they are 35. They are under so much pressure that they suffer a burn-out in a short span — and all for a job that they may not even love. We all need jobs that will help us use our creative energies while having time to connect with people.”

It is important for a neutral person to listen to these people, feels Shankarnarayanan. “They need to unburden themselves to people outside their immediate circle because sometimes friends and family may not be able to help. They need to feel accepted and not judged.”

An industry insider explains, “In our company, we have third-party counselling which employees can access any time. Moreover, most companies now have workshops or sessions with experts giving tips on good health, of which emotional health is an important aspect.”

Most often, suicidal tendencies are a result of a person’s inability to cope with disappointment, says Rajani. “Cultural differences and rejection are some of the other reasons that make one feel vulnerable. For example, a child might have been a topper all his life in school. But as soon as he enters an elite school he finds that all his peers are as good as or even better than him. He is unable to handle this pressure. In these cases, most often, all they need is to get the problem off their chest. Listen to them and you may make them feel better. But if they continue to appear withdrawn, lose their temper too easily, or complain of headaches, then it’s best they are guided to a professional.”