Experts decode the reasons behind high suicide rates in India

Sep 21, 2014, 07:15 IST | Anu Prabhakar

A recent WHO report has found that India has one of the highest rates of suicide. Although overall, more men commit suicide, the report singled out Indian women falling between the age group 15 to 29 as vulnerable. Mental health professionals discuss what makes a girl or woman in the country suicidal

Rashmi Thakur (name changed) seemed to have it all. At 28, she was the mother of a one-year-old who already exhibited signs of being a smart kid. She was married to a man who was ever encouraging of her high-flying job as a senior executive at an event management company. Fellow mommies and friends never missed the chance to remind how lucky Thakur was to ‘have it all’. Which is why when she had her first nervous breakdown, even Thakur was caught unaware.

A lot of women can’t handle breakups and that leads to severe depression

“I always knew I was stressed but didn’t know how much. I stopped hanging out with my girlfriends gradually. And soon, my whole life was only about work and home. I just felt so alienated,” recalls the Mumbai-based executive.

It was when she found herself locked in the office washroom, bawling her eyes out for an hour after a client meeting where her PowerPoint presentation was thrashed (a project which she worked on for three hours, on a night her son was ill), that Thakur decided she needed professional help. “That day, when I thought about ending it all for the first time, I realised I was in trouble. While growing up, my mother always told me that a woman should always ‘keep it together’. But today, I know there is no shame in asking for help,” says Thakur, who continues to attend counselling sessions with a therapist.

If a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report on suicide, which has been called ‘landmark’ in its scope, is to be believed, Thakur is far from alone. According to the report, the ‘age group most vulnerable in India is 15 to 29 years, with a suicide rate of 35.5 per thousand’. The report further adds that ‘the age group has the highest rate for women — 36.1 per thousand’

Patients as young as 12
Clinical psychologist Dr Samindara Sawant says, “I get almost twice the number of female patients as compared to male patients and also a lot of girls — who are as young as 12 years old — and have suicidal tendencies,” she adds.

Relationship issues, generational gap with parents and academics are key culprits. Hormonal changes can also lead to severe mood swings, explains Sharita Shah, woman and child psychiatrist at Bombay Hospital. “Puberty is hitting girls a lot earlier than two generations ago. Also, with recession, young girls shoulder financial responsibilities a lot earlier. A 12th standard pass can get a job at a BPO. It’s easy money and youngsters are getting integrated into the workforce a lot earlier, where there are more chances of stress, relationship pressures, substance abuse at an earlier age,” she adds.

Seema Hingorrany, clinical psychologist and the author of Beating the Blues, points out that in a city like Mumbai, rising expenses, unsatisfactory job profiles, parental pressure, living away from home and increased feelings of alienation are major issues among older women. “There is also the issue of easy breakups which a lot of men and women cannot handle,” explains Hingorrany. “There are also cases of severe depression where women, after focussing on their careers for a long time, are unable to have children and wonder whether they have waited for too long,” she adds.

Talking helps
Owing to its complex nature, there is no single, quick way remedy to the situation. However, there are a few life-saving tips that one can keep in mind. “Eating, sleeping well and exercising affect us in a big way. It can affect your mood,” points out Shah. “Pursue a hobby. Consult a doctor if you have thyroid issues. I have also noticed that asking patients to rate their day on a scale of 0 to 10 helps, so that we know what makes them happy and depressed,” she elaborates.

Reprioritise yourself, says Sawant. “Keeping aside half an hour every day is not too much to ask for,” she adds. Hingorrany points out that talking helps. “I have received calls in the middle of the night from people who are suicidal. And by talking, you can save lives. Do not suppress your thoughts — vent out and streamline your thoughts,” she adds.

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