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When the city takes its awful toll

Afshan Yasmeen
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Isolation, stress, lack of support and disintegration of the family are killing us

For those prone to depression, the communication channel should be open to help avoid suicides. — PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR
For those prone to depression, the communication channel should be open to help avoid suicides. — PHOTO: K. MURALI KUMAR

For the world, Madhu was a bright postgraduate student of a Jayanagar college who would achieve her dream of becoming a chartered accountant. But like so many of the city's vulnerable, she had attempted to end her life several times after she underwent emotional and physical abuse by her own family.

It was the dedicated counselling by Anita Gracias from SAHAI, a suicide prevention helpline, which helped her overcome her depression. “I now realise I was wrong when I had made serious attempts — at least six — to end my life. I started defining life by things that I can control and started accepting those things that I could not. This was my first step towards recovery,” Ms. Madhu told The Hindu .

“I worked with her for a couple of years. When she thanked me for the support, I told her to repay it by helping others who are suicidal,” said Ms. Gracias.

“For those who are prone to bouts of depression, the communication channel should be open between peers, family members and friends. This is very important to avoid suicides and attempted suicides. Also, counselling services and helplines are just a call away,” she said.

Social factors

Experts say increasing urbanisation, industrialisation and migration not only from other cities but also from rural areas, as well as the boom in IT and education sectors in the last few years have brought several families and students from across the country to Bangalore.

“But without family support and lack of counselling services in educational institutions and workplaces, people are unable to cope with academic stress, relationship issues, social isolation, inability to control anger and impulsiveness. Addiction to the internet is an added factor,” Prabha S. Chandra, Professor of Psychiatry at NIMHANS, told The Hindu .

More youngsters

An increasing number of students and young professionals are seeking the services of psychiatrists, Dr. Chandra pointed out, and the most common causes were relationship issues and job stress.

Students are unable to deal with the pressures of exams. Their inability to cope with results and having to weigh various options about future study and career only makes them more vulnerable. This is the time when educational institutes need to get extra support systems in place, she said and added that not many institutions had such support systems.

She believes that suicide prevention involves cooperation and collaboration between mental health professionals, parents, school and college teachers, policy-makers, the police and the media.

Expressing displeasure over what she called “irresponsible” reportage of suicides, Dr. Chandra said: “By reporting minute details such as the method, the media is only aiding the copycat syndrome.”

Complex circumstances

A suicidal attempt cannot be attributed to a single cause as it always happens due to complex circumstances.

“Attributing it to a common life event is not just extremely simplistic, it is also very risky. While the act may follow a particular incident, there are usually several causes which interact with each other leading to it, including pre-existing but unrecognised mental health problems,” she said.

Suresh Bada Math, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at NIMHANS, said that often media reportage helped vulnerable individuals identify with the circumstances, thereby enhancing chances of copycat suicides.

“I was recently counselling a couple and was surprised when their seven-year-old son threatened to make it to the headlines if they did not listen to him. This is the impact of media reportage even on children,” she said.

Support groups

Doctors and counsellors recommend that apart from support groups in educational institutions and workplaces, there should be such groups in the community as well.

“Similar to the residents' welfare associations, there should be support groups in localities so that anyone in distress can seek help,” Dr. Chandra said. “Such alternative systems are essential as mutual affection, love, empathy, self-esteem and all factors that once cemented relationships are becoming weak now. Stress from work instantly shows on the family, affecting bonds that once were taken for granted. Overall the family system is eroding,” Dr. Chandra added.

(Name of the student has been changed on request.)

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