Mental Health Conversations Can Help Prevent Suicide In Women

One of the best preventive actions families can take against suicide is to bring mental health conversations to the dining table.

Hmm. This is a sombre topic. With news of the shocking Kota suicides still ringing in our ears, we are approaching September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day. Precious lives are being lost.

What is not a matter of debate is that suicide is preventable, and all efforts must be made at the individual, family, social, and systemic levels to curb these tragedies.

According to the World Health Organization, 703000 people die by suicide each year worldwide. What is particularly disturbing in the Indian context is that the suicide death rate (SDR) in India is much higher than the global average in the case of women.

In a research paper titled ‘Suicide in Indian women’ published in The Lancet Public Health in May 2023, it has been mentioned that the age-standardised suicide rate of 11·1 per 100,000 for Indian women is more than double that of the global age-standardised suicide rate of 5·4.

In the case of women, the SDR was reportedly highest in the 45-59 age group and in women who were unemployed. The most common reason for suicide was family problems.

According to the Indian Journal of Psychiatry:

“The age group of 18 to <30 years and persons of 30 to <45 years of age accounted for 34.5% and 31.7% of total suicides, respectively. A significant proportion of these individuals were students. As many as 13,039 students died of suicide. The highest percentage of suicides consistently occurring in the young, productive population of the country over the years calls for serious action from the Union and the State governments.”

Perils of patriarchy

Suicide in Indian Women

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Even without going into in-depth causes, it is likely that patriarchy is the culprit for the high SDRs among Indian women. It is the patriarchy that shows women that their place in the home and society by not allowing them the freedom to chart their own destiny.

“Whether it’s the case of a working woman or a homemaker, very often she does not get her due. Her contribution, whether financial or as a caregiver, is not appreciated. This can lead to a lot of frustration, depression, and desperation. Added factors are dowry demands, domestic violence, cheating husbands, doubting husbands, and rigid gender roles which leave the women overworked, stressed and mentally distressed,” says Nishmin Marshall, former director of Saath, a suicide prevention centre in Ahmedabad.

Fight the stigma

World Suicide Prevention Day

At the family level, one of the best preventive actions is to bring mental health conversations to the dining table, says Nishmin.

“The subject of mental health is very often not spoken about openly in families. I feel that talking about mental health should start at school. Schools, and colleges, need to include mental health in their curriculum.”

“It is important that family and friends pick up warning signals early. Being withdrawn, wanting to be alone most of the time, unable to relate to others, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, expressing feelings of failure or uselessness, showing disappointment, and being inactive, are some warning signs, she says.

“In general, biological, psychological and social factors lead to suicidal ideation (thinking of or planning suicide). The three most common psychological factors are impulsivity, hopelessness, and helplessness. The key to suicide prevention is to take it very seriously if a family member or friend talks about suicide. And, to get him or her professional help,” shared Nishmin.

Treat it as an emergency

Suicide Prevention Helpline Numbers

Speaking to Anahata Insights, a newsletter brought out by Anahata Mental Health Clinic, Ahmedabad, psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Dhruv Thakkar shares his insight.

“If you believe someone wants to end his or her life, it is an emergency. Be around your friend 24/7. Do not leave him or her alone. Make sure you inform family members and convince them that they need to take your friend to a mental health professional,” he stresses.

“It is also important to look out for warning signs, as usually there will be a cry for help. For instance, some years ago, one of my patients uploaded a status and a DP saying I quit on WhatsApp. He told his sister that this might be their last Raksha Bandhan together. This was a red flag. We need to continue campaigns on radio, TV and social media. Of course, suicide prevention helplines are very effective,” explains Dr Dhruv.

“In general, thoughts of suicide may emerge when a vulnerable person encounters stressful events. The major trigger factors include the death of a loved one, loss of job, academic stress and peer pressure among students, loss of health, guilt, shame, relationship problems, debt, loss of business, substance abuse, depression, and mental illness. An individual gets overwhelmed by a situation and thinks that the only way to stop the pain is by ending his or her life. Everyone deals with pain subjectively. What might be upsetting for one person may be unbearable for another,” he explains.

Could suicide rates decrease if people were just kinder towards each other?

“Of course! Definitely. Being empathetic and kind and putting your hand on someone’s shoulder and saying: ‘Don’t worry, this will pass’ can be a great help,’” says Nishmin with conviction.

If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call:
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080-25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040-66202000, 040-66202001
SPEAK2us, Tamil Nadu: 9375493754
Saath – 079-26305544 and 079-26300222.

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Image source: edited on CanvaPro

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Aruna Raghuram

I am a freelance journalist and write on parenting, personalities, women’s issues, environment, and other social causes. read more...

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