By Deepshikha Punj
05th August 2012 12:00 AM
Sayali was only 26 when she visited a psychiatrist with complaints of sleeplessness and anxiety. The Delhi girl attributed her lack of interest in routine activities and social life to her year-and-a-half love marriage, which had already hit rock-bottom. Despite attending several counseling sessions and receiving continuous support from her friends for many months, Sayali couldn’t take it any more. She killed herself. Arun Gopal (name changed), a 33-year-old travel agent from Kerala consumed poison and killed himself. A homosexual, he couldn’t bring himself out of the closet and had been hiding a three-year relationship with another man. Once that ended, he did not think life was worth living. Another number was added to the state’s suicide list.
In Chennai, 35-year-old Rupali Dey (name changed), a senior marketing executive, ended her life. She could no longer take the constant bickering by her husband for being professionally more successful and also living away from his parents. Rupali is but one of the hundreds of urban Indians who choose to die at their own hand every day rather than face their problems. The post-liberalisation atmosphere has led to a severe aspirational backlash, causing thousands of Indians, from students to techies and corporate honchos to housewives, to kill themselves. Dr Kurien S Thomas, clinical psychologist and counsellor, Effective Living Clinic, Mumbai, explains, “The 1990s have been an eye-opener for India in terms of economic growth and changing lifestyles. But this has also resulted in increased stress and anxiety levels. Earlier, stress was only about nuclear families, but now disparity in incomes, the race to reach the top of the professional ladder, and excess competition is leading to an increase in such cases among Indians.”
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), more than one lakh persons (1,35,585) in the country committed suicide in 2011. This indicates an increase of 0.7 per cent over the previous year’s figure (1,34,599).The number of suicides in the country during the decade (2001–2011) recorded a horrifying increase of 25 per cent (from 1,08,506 in 2001 to 1,35,585 in 2010).
Dr Ann Simi John, consultant clinical psychologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurgaon, attributes the rise in the rate of suicides to poor frustration tolerance, poor coping skills, professional stress and personal and social situations. “Most people try to solve their problems by ignoring them, replacing them with substances like alcohol, drugs or smoking. When these fail, they resort to suicide. Suicide is often committed as the final step to reconcile with the conflicting situation or persons,” she says. John adds that while we are taught to worry about the future, be sceptical and serious so there is no room for error, we are not taught to deal with our emotions, our anger, our anxieties and our fears. “We think having any of these means being weak. We are often victims of victims because our parents and well-wishers knew no better. These cases could mostly be divided into categories such as love life, marital problems or drug abuse, to name a few,” she says.
While family problems and illness accounted for 24.3 per cent and 19.6 per cent respectively, suicides due to love affairs accounted for 3.4 per cent, drug abuse and addiction 2.7 per cent, dowry disputes 2.4 per cent, bankruptcy 2.2 per cent and poverty 1.7 per cent. An NCRB official says, “Suicides due to drug abuse or addiction, love affairs, family problem, dowry dispute, suspected or illicit relation and cancellation or non-settlement of marriage have shown an increasing trend during last three years. Suicides due to poverty, bankruptcy and physical abuse have shown a mixed trend during the same period.”
Also, while 241 cases of suicides were reported daily among males in the country, the count for women was 131, of which 67 were housewives. “The numbers of male suicides are seen more in the rural sector. This segment includes people who might have taken loans and are unable to repay debt. Also, since they are supposed to be the bread winners of the family in the rural society, the pressure overwhelms them,” says Thomas. However, he says, even though males are supposed to be the breadwinner of the family in the rural sector, in urban areas both males and females are equally or jointly working hard to bring in income for the family.
The report also highlights a state-wise rise in suicide numbers. West Bengal recorded the highest number of cases with 16,492 suicides, accounting for 12.2 per cent of total suicides. Anita Dsouza, coordinator, Lifeline Foundation, a not-for-profit suicide helpline volunteer organization, Kolkata says, “On an average we receive around 20 to 25 calls each day from distressed between the ages of 7 and 80.” She says that relationship problems and loneliness among youngsters and senior citizens are the biggest problems in the state. “Distress calls from students during examinations and results increase substantially during the months of May to July. Being forced to take a subject that may not necessarily be of their choice or being constantly compared with a peer, pushes children over the edge.”
Dsouza says that lack of decision-making and acceptance by the family as well as the advent of nuclear families also leads to taking such a decision. The state (West Bengal) reported the highest number of suicidal deaths in 2009, the second highest in 2010, and again reported the highest in 2011, accounting for 11.5 per cent, 11.9 and 12.2 per cent respectively of total such deaths in the country. “Suicides are not region centric but depends on the environment and problems,” says Dsouza. But West Bengal is not the only state affected by the highest number. With several cases of suicides being reported from the national capital, it has outdone all other union territories. Delhi reported 1,716 cases followed by Puducherry with 557.
In May this year, around five cases of suicides were reported at different metro stations in the capital. The national capital has also been witness to several group suicides. Dr Aakriti Gupta, psychiatrist, BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi, explains, “Such steps are taken where there is lack of mental health awareness. Adding to this is glamourisation and over-rating of accidental deaths. For instance, several distressed Delhiites sought metro jumps as the easiest option to kill themselves. Had this not been so popularised, we would not be reading one report after the other.”
Gupta believes that most suicide cases, especially among youngsters, are due to lack of communication. “Whether it is an employed techie or a college student, the importance of inter-personal communication is lost in translation. Youngsters are breaking up with a BBM message. Facebook has become the only way to sustain your personality. If they get everything on the virtual world, what is the need for them to be a part of the real world, and that is where depression seeps in,” says Gupta. The situation is such that if one wants to breakup, Google has over 1,000 break-up messages.
Gupta says, “A couple came to me for therapy and their only way to communicate with each other was via mails — even though they would be in the same house at the same time. There was another case where a 15-year-old suicidal child wanted to end a life that hadn’t even been started yet. He was depressed because of lack of communication with his parents. His mother would give him a missed call to summon him into her room. What can the child do?” In May, this year 15 year-old Rajan was rushed to a hospital in Delhi after consuming sleeping tablets prescribed to his mother. He was waiting for his Class X Board results, but knew if he failed his mathematics exam, his father’s anger would be beyond control. He sought death as the better option. Pallavi Jha, managing director, Dale Carnegie Training India, says, “In India performance starts very early; be it getting a job or acceptability in society. Even the college admission cut-offs are at 100 per cent. These expectations are breeding a huge amount of frustration in people.”
The cases of suicides are no longer restrained to downtrodden cities or states, or the poor and the illiterate. Kerala, with the highest literacy rate in the country had 25.3 suicides per lakh of population in 2011. Maithri, a not-for-profit suicide helpline organization, spoke to The New Indian Express. T Padmakumar, director, Maithri, says, “We started in 1995 when the suicide rates were the highest. More than 9,800 cases were recorded that year. Although the number has come down considerably, the problem prevails.” He says the three biggest problems leading to suicides in the state are relationship issues, education-related problems and homosexuality. Rajesh R Pillai, who is also an administrator for Maithri, says, “We get a good number of calls each day for issues of homosexuality. This is a big problem in the state. Societal and cultural pressure on people who want to come out of the closet but are unable to is high in the state. Also inter-caste marriages are a big issue.” Pillai says that there are few psychiatrists in India to deal with this problem. “There are about 3,500 clinical psychiatrists in India and 300 in Kerala. Managing a large number of people with suicidal tendencies is not easy. Plus many feel it is better to commit suicide than share their problems. This is where helplines come into picture.” Maharashtra which is ranked 13th on suicide rate also has several suicide helplines.
Johnson Thomas, founder and director, Aasra helpline, Mumbai, says “India is already the No. 2 country with the given rates of suicides, and is heading towards being No. 1. The major reason for this problem is the culture of education. Youngsters are subjected to conflicting expectations in this multi-cultural society. For instance, students are encouraged to get the highest marks and since everybody is pining for higher education, expectations mount pressure. We also get a lot of calls from employed living away from families.” Statistics disclosed by the Mumbai Police revealed that the highest number of suicides over the past few years have taken place in the eastern suburbs with the northern suburbs close behind. The least number of cases were recorded in south Mumbai. While the number of women victims had risen over the past year, the number of men who committed suicide had gone down in 2011. The police figures also reveal a marginal drop in the number of suicides in the city in the past year. Thomas explains that metropolitan cities such as Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai have various sources of entertainment. Plus, with an increased source of income and freedom, many people are unable to develop a coping mechanism, and build up barriers. While the age bracket of people committing suicide extends to between 10 and 80, psychologists say it is adolescents and youngsters that need the most help. Dr Anjali Chhabria, clinical psychologist, Mumbai, says “Recently, there has been a drastic increase in the age groups between 13 and 19 years and 20 and 30 years that come for consultation. This is due to increase in teenage depression and relationship conflicts causing low self-confidence, loneliness and insecurity.”
The increasing rates of cases are also a major cause of concern for industries. According to available data, while private and public sector personnel accounted for 8.2 and 2.0 per cent of the suicide victims respectively, self-employed individuals accounted for 38.3 per cent of victims. Also, 5.3 per cent were engaged in businesses and 3.1 per cent were professionals. Jha says, “Industries are becoming more competitive and sometimes people with required talent may be substituted for lesser competitive ones. This leads to higher levels of frustrations among employees. Since most managers want to succeed, there is larger amount of pressure on subordinates. The best way to get out of such a situation is to communicate.”
Software is a hard place to be. Case after case has been reported about techies committing suicide. Says Dr John, “A 35-year-old software engineer, Nimish, consulted a psychologist after his wife and colleagues pointed out that he was increasingly moody, withdrawn, relied on alcohol and cigarettes instead of dealing with his issues. Sporting a phenomenal career path in spite of a series of setbacks and stressors at work, he felt he could not deal with his problems like before. Known to be aggressive, gregarious and action-oriented, the man that sat in front of me today was suffering from depression. He revealed that he has felt like giving up on life and taking the obvious route — suicide.” John points that almost 85 per cent of people go through depression at some point of their life. “Depression is treatable. You and your loved ones have every right to live a happy and fulfilling life. For people who know others suffering from depression, watch out for signs and talk to them without judging. Support them by taking them to a professional like a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist. Do not waste time or avoid it. Be proactive for them. You are saving a life,” she says.
A liberal society brings with it freedom, competence, ambitions and disparity; and changes in lifestyles and incomes have only managed to increase this gap. While many of us have developed a coping mechanism and moved on, others like Sayali, Gopal, Raman and Nimish clearly could not. Their actions have questioned our morality and ethics. Such cases force us to ask, how much is too much?