Death is not the answer: Psychiatrist Anjali Chhabria on reducing the stigma around suicide

According to WHO, every three seconds globally, someone somewhere attempts suicide — and every 40 seconds a person succeeds. Unfortunately, one out of these three suicides is happening in India.

To coincide with World Mental Day (10 October), a new book called Death Is Not The Answer (Penguin Publications), by Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria, is being released as an attempt to de-stigmatise suicide by expounding some of the reasons for it.

Representational image. Courtesy CNN-News 18

Representational image. Courtesy CNN-News 18

According to Dr Chhabria, in spite of the many books and talks on having a positive outlook towards life, “there are so many who are unable to relate to anything that could give them a ray of hope in times of distress and death seems to be an only solution for them. This book is my attempt to bring it to notice that whatever the situation, however bad the circumstance, ‘Death’ is definitely not an answer.”

As a practicing psychiatrist, attending every day to at least two patients who have suicidal thoughts, or have attempted it in past, compelled her to work on this sensitive topic which goes unspoken otherwise.

It is mainly due to lack of awareness, misconceptions, and a deep rooted stigma that many lives are lost. While family and friends rally around the person suffering from a physical health condition, a person with a mental health condition is usually left to deal with his/her problems and even neglected or shunned.

Dr Chhabria says, “The first reaction that one gives to a mental health patient is of shock. “Why would you go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist? Are you going crazy?” these are usual statements made towards those who willingly seek help.”

Awareness and sensitisation about mental illnesses and possible treatment for the same is key to preventing suicide. There is a myth that speaking about suicide openly will cause people to actually act on it.  The reality is that more conversations around this topic will create more awareness and a shift in attitude.

She adds, “The notion that only ‘mad’ people visit a psychiatrist’s clinic will change only if they are made conscious about the importance of mental well-being along with physical well-being.”

The majority of suicides are preceded by warning signs. People contemplating suicide really do not want to die and awareness about early signs and symptoms, followed with timely intervention, can save these lives.

Dr Chhabria says, “Looking out for any drastic or subtle changes in mood patterns (mood fluctuations), reduced interest level in daily activities, reduction in communication, tendency to stay aloof more than usual, and observing unusual behaviour could help detect warning signs. “

Family members need to be vigilant if the patient has been a victim of recent stress or loss, or has had a history of any psychiatric illness or is currently suffering from a psychiatric illness, encounter with a traumatic event or even substance abuse. These are few precipitating factors leading to suicidal behaviour.

The society at large help take the discussion on suicide forward in order to destigmatise it. Dr Chhabria says we should draw inspiration from the way stigma around HIV/AIDS was eradicated.  Awareness drives were conducted in schools and colleges not only in cities but at the grass root levels also.

She adds, “The media also played an important role to bring out the statistics of how badly it is affecting society. Applying this analogy to destigmatise suicide society at large can save many lives. Talking about suicide makes people in society vigilant and more responsible towards their own as well as loved one’s mental health.”

Certain sections of the society are known to be more vulnerable — youth between 15 to 25 years of age, housewives, homosexuals, geriatric population, and people with terminal illnesses, psychiatric disorders and economic hardships. Dr Chhabria’s book deals with each of these high risk groups describing the causes and reasons for their vulnerability.

But no matter what the reason, support and understanding by family member or friend can help tide over the crucial moments. Bringing in the person to a mental health clinic for help can be a good start towards the treatment. Listening to the person is also important, many a times they may voice out their thoughts on suicide.

“Not reprimanding or judging the person, removing any potential means of suicide (sharp objects, pills, access to firearms, ropes etc.) could be other ways in which one can help. In Death Is Not The Answer an entire section is dedicated to how can one extend help towards someone who is suicidal and in turn help save a life,” says Dr Chhabria.

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Updated Date: Oct 16, 2016 08:51:59 IST

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