Spurt in Suicides As Gujarat Records Highest Mortality Rate Amid Pandemic

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At least 3 suicide cases come to light day after day in Gujarat even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state has earned the dubious distinction of having the highest mortality rate with deadly Coronavirus

Mahesh Trivedi | Clarion India

THE ‘Land of Mahatma Gandhi’ may soon be nicknamed the ‘Land of people with a death wish’.

At least three suicide cases come to light day after day in Gujarat even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wealthy state has earned the dubious distinction of having the highest mortality rate with the deadly Coronavirus disease (COVID) knocking out some 1,650 people in the past three months.

Self-destruction constitutes 25 per cent of the deaths from the dreaded pandemic and, if a cure is not found in the near future, chances are this tip of the iceberg may turn into an avalanche of suicides, warn experts.

According to Anju Sheth, people with a death wish need unconditional emotional support.    

“Thanks to the COVID and consequent harsh lockdown, people are losing jobs and businesses, and, on the other hand, corona patients are packed like sardines in hospitals and have to shell out lakhs of rupees. The emotional and psychological traumas lead to suicidal thoughts. If the vaccine is not developed soon, the situation would be horrible for many,” forensic psychologist Rajat Mishra told Clarion India.

According to him, unlike elsewhere in India, people of Gujarat do not want to share their problems with their friends and family members. “They are suffering but don’t won’t to even meet and take the advice of a psychologist or a psychiatrist,” lamented Mishra who has mingled with patients in mental hospitals and drug addiction centres.

Though psychiatrists say that mental stress is not the major cause of self-harm, the reasons why those in the doleful dumps take the extreme step include lockdown-induced confinement, unemployment, social isolation, drug and alcohol addiction, fear of the pandemic, loss of income and consequent domestic squabbles. etc.

Only on June 18, two middle-aged brothers, who owed banks Rs 3 million, and their four pre-teen children were found hanging from the ceiling of the family-owned unoccupied flat on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. While one brother was jobless, the fate of another’s fabric-checking contractual job in a textile form was hanging in the balance because of the long-drawn lockdown.

With his exams put off yet again indefinitely due to the lockdown, a 24-year-old student from Afghanistan pursuing Bachelor of Business Administration at an institute in Ahmedabad last week hanged himself from a tree outside his university hostel building.

On one single day on June 2, three down-at-heel men ended it all in separate incidents in Ahmedabad, while in Rajkot, within just three consecutive days last month, five hard-up people—a tailor, a welder, a labourer, a factory owner and a driver—killed themselves after the lockdown snatched the bread out of their mouths.

A suicide awareness programme being conducted at Dr Ronak Gandhi’s Loving Centre for Transformation.

Says Anju Seth, founder-director of the Saath suicide prevention helpline: “Besides suicides reported in the media, there are many other people who have suicidal thoughts and may be waiting for some trigger to execute those thoughts into action.”

The dedicated Saath volunteers not only listen to the down-hearted callers with a non-judgemental ear round the year but also conduct awareness programmes in schools, colleges, hospitals, old age homes and even army camps.

Indeed, phones of Saath as well as the Zindagi (1096) helpline of the Ahmedabad police have of late been ringing off the hook round the clock with countless young and adolescent callers desperately wanting to commit hara-kiri over trifles and bagatalles what with Saath receiving a dozen high-risk SOS calls so far.

Dr Ronak Gandhi, founder of Loving Centre for Transformation, told Clarion India that suicide was more of a psycho-socio-economic problem rather than a psychiatric disorder and was ‘100 per cent preventable’.

“Expression is the opposite of depression, Sharing and talking about one’s issue and opening up to the other will go a good length in getting a better insight into the solution. If we have one true friend with whom we can share our problems, he/she will not let us die in despair,” claims Dr Gandhi, a medical doctor trained in meditation, therapy, hypnosis and Zen counseling who has helped people suffering from failures, depression, suicidal tendencies and relationship issues.

Across India, some 80 people had ended their life in April last due to loneliness and shock of being tested COVID positive. The country accounts for almost a fifth of global suicides what with 135,000 cases of self-destruction recorded every year compared to some 800,000 desperate people taking the extreme step the world over.

Dr Ronak Gandhi is a trained facilitator in meditation, therapy, hypnosis and healing arts.

A shocking 34 per cent–the highest in the world–of suicides in India are in the age group of 15-29 years, and, truth to tell, an astonishing 80 per cent of those who commit suicide are not unlettered ignoramuses but book-smart youths.

Experts say that one frustrated Indian student ends his or her life every hour, thanks to academics and peer pressure. The vulnerable youths are always under tremendous pressure to come out with flying colours in examination or career to meet the high expectations of their hard-pressed parents but when they fail to score well, the youngsters decide to take their own life.

Apart from exam failure and peer pressure, youths are faced with also some other problems which continue to hang fire and one fine day spiral into full-fledged clinical depression and lead to suicide.

Other factors that trigger disembowelment include cyber bullying, death of a loved one, terminal illness, guilt feelings, personal relations break-ups, marriage-related issues, etc.

According to a report by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, at least 13.7 per cent of India’s population also has various mental disorders what with 7,200 such Indians shutting their lights out in desperation in 2014.

Unfortunately, the down-and-out men and women soon turn doomsayers after feeling unwanted by their families who ignore their body language and fail to offer them adequate solace perhaps because of the stigma and ignorance around the suicidal tendency.

Ahmedabad’s ’Saath’ (top, extreme left) is among the top-drawer suicide prevention helplines in Indian cities.

And even those who do care for their oddball dear ones consider their eccentricity as demonic possessions and seek religious remedies instead of seeking help from a head shrinker.

“Most Indians are still unaware that medical help can be sought and hesitate to accept that, like in the body, something can go wrong even in the mind. Empathy, compassion and medicines can swiftly change the patient’s life”, believes Mishra.

Strangely, there are only three psychiatrists for a population of 100,000 in India, a nation with 17.5 per cent of world population which spends a shameful 0.06 per cent of its budget on mental health, much less than even Bangladesh (0.44 pc), not to mention many developed countries (4 pc).

In sum, the post-Covid-19 landscape will be a fertile breeding ground for an increase in chronic stress, anxiety, depression, alcohol dependence, and self-harm. Hence, the government could coordinate the efforts of organisations like Saath and business interest groups like FICCI, ASSOCHAM, etc also could come together and open some helpline so that affected people can give vent to their negative emotions without any social biases and in a non-judgmental environment.

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