Suicide Prevention: A quintessential service for modern times

Suicide Prevention: A quintessential service for modern times

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” – Albert Camus.

According to the World Health Organization report of 2019, India ranks 21 in terms of the annual count of suicides with a whopping 2,20,481 suicides during the year (WHO, 2019). The data showed that this is not an isolated case. The recent data shows that suicide rates have spiked across the globe in recent times. It’s high time that mental health and suicidality be declared a global emergency.

It is imperative to understand and explore the underlying aspects concerning suicide. According to Psychodynamic perspective, the Thanatos or the death drive within the psyche is turned inwards to oneself which leads to suicidal behavior. The humanist existential school thinks of suicide as an act springing from a state of meaninglessness. For instance: Viktor Frankl, founder of logotherapy – begins his sessions by asking the client the question “Why didn’t you commit suicide?” so as to help them excavate the neglected meaning and purpose in life. It is at this stage that we cannot neglect the role of social conditioning whereby we are programmed to develop certain attitudes towards suicide which in many cases facilitate suicidal behavior. Emile Durkheim, author of On Suicide, gave a sociological narrative to suicide. His work laid foundation to the development and facilitation of suicides by society.

All these theoretical foundations despite of their shortcomings have significantly contributed to our understanding of suicides. Nevertheless, recent data and the global suicide crisis showed that our academic advances has not yet made its practical success.

One way to address this is to further expand our understanding about suicidality. Suicide needs to be addressed by a multidisciplinary approach. In today’s world along with individual thoughts and society, the class, the economy, the norms and even climate change contributes to suicidal behavior.

Along this line, it is interesting to note the profound sex difference in suicidal behavior. It’s generally seen that women tend to have higher number of unsuccessful suicide attempts while men have more number of suicides that result in death. This might be linked to the relatively higher aggression levels in men. In recent years, men outnumber women in terms of suicide rates – which brings our attention towards man’s mental health crisis.
It is also noteworthy to consider the changing expression and experience of human behavior in a predominantly digital interface. Growing epidemic of loneliness and cyber-crimes make the conditions adverse.

Along with these, it is important to note that the consequence bearers of suicides are always the ones who have to live with the truth of suicide in memories of their loved ones. These people are living in haunting memories and guilt. They are more likely to develop depression, PTSD or other mental disturbances, in addition to bereavement and other adjustment issues.
All this brings us to a paradigm shift in our conceptualization of suicide. As much as our challenges have grown innumerable, so did our opportunities to expand our understanding of the human mind as well as to improve our mental health services.

Today, we have countless suicide helplines across the globe. A few helplines in India are listed below for quick reference. We have come a long way, when we finally decriminalized suicide attempts in the mental health act 2017 acknowledging that suicide is a cry for help and charging for a suicide attempt is like adding fuel to fire.

But the need is to expand our suicide prevention strategies into a broader scale. We need to improve the outreach of our suicide prevention programs. We need to encourage multidisciplinary input while addressing the issue. Also, it is important to consider the close ones of a suicide victim and rehabilitation should broaden its focus. A nation-wide policy reform is imperative, as urged by a recent press release from NIMHANS, Bangalore.

We are in the right direction but it’s important to move ahead. At the grassroots, what we can do is to lend our ears and hold hands and pay attention to ourselves and our loved ones. We can dare to reach out when it is necessary and become the heroes to wipe out the stigma associated with suicide and mental health.

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