By Arya Timblo
Many may wonder why World Suicide Prevention Day should be focused upon in Goa, but the inconvenient truth is that Goa has one of the highest suicide rates in India.
“At a shocking 5 per cent more than the national average, we Goans should not turn a blind eye to this dimension of reality. The national suicide rate is 11.7 per lakh population while in Goa it is 15.8 per lakh population,” COOJ director and psychiatrist Dr Peter Castelino said, while speaking at a function at the North Goa District Hospital.
Having worked in a Counseling and Suicide Prevention Centre as a psychotherapist for over a decade, I was often questioned what kind of people come to the centre. Many would be shocked to know that mental and emotional problems and suicidal feelings cut across factors such as education, socio-economic class, gender, age and even family backgrounds. I have worked with as many people who are from the most wealthy and well educated backgrounds, to people who live in abject poverty, from age 10-70. Across the board, human emotions – pains, fears and frustrations and worries – truly are universal and transcend any stereotypical notions we have of mental illness.
Some of the factors that drive a person to take their lives are often something we can all relate to. Close to 25 per cent of suicides are due to family-related problems. For example, love relationships that are not approved of by family members, joint family problems, parental pressure to perform and get high marks at school or college exams, suppressing mental health issues that need attention, and substance abuse-related home violence are all contributing factors that push people over the edge to take their lives.
Shriram (named changed to protect confidentiality) was a young man from a well-to-do conservative family who came for therapy at the point of being suicidal. Having been a son who had always pleased his parents both academically and work wise, he was close to the brink since he was miserable in his marriage with a wife who constantly berated him and cut his self esteem into pieces, but feared being socially ostracised if he divorced her. Although there was no other woman in his life and no social scandal to pin to his name, he feared the judgement of others and how it would negatively impact his parents and sisters’ marriage prospects. Torn between staying in a disturbing marriage and the shame of having to be known as a divorcée who would dishonor the family, Sriram fell into a deep depression and only when he actively had thoughts of ending his life did he decide to give therapy a
Getting professional help through an experienced therapist or sensitive psychiatrist has been proven to help those in such a distressed state, but in order for Goans to be able to reach out to these professions one has to overcome the fear of the society’s disapproval.
“Log kya kahenge”, and family “izzat” are the main culprits that prevent people from getting help, as though being in denial will magically get rid of the very problems that tend to snowball if suppressed. It is as if others disapproving gaze of society is more important than the well-being of our loved ones?
If we as a society are willing to go to a doctor for medical help for cough or chest-based problem, how is it any different from a mental or emotional problem that needs attention too? Why do we feel hesitant to admit we are not emotionally feeling well when it is socially acceptable to admit we are physically unwell?
Another staggering fact is increasing suicides are being reported in the age group of 20-30 years. Shreya (name changed) was a college-going student and was aware that her parents were very strict about their expectations placed upon her to perform at the top of her class each year. When she found one year in college her marks were not adequate to meet the approval of her parents, she contemplated either running away from home or committing suicide, and called on the suicide helpline in a state of confusion and panic.
(The writer is a senior psychotherapist)