Preventing Suicide
By: Pulkit Sharma

According to the WHO statistics, India ranks among countries with highest suicide rates worldwide. Often sociological and economic factors including poverty, discrimination and rapidly changing ethos are identified as causal factors leading to suicide. Although these factors could be one among many triggers that ultimately precipitate suicide, from an in-depth psychological perspective they represent the tip of an iceberg.

The mind is complex and our actions and behavior emerge from interaction of multiple psychological factors. Often, stressful life circumstances such as loss, poverty, failure and trauma have a different impact from one person to another based on their overall psychological health and coping mechanisms. Suicidal ideation can be an indicator of many different things from one person to another across lifetime. Broadly speaking, there are two different types of suicidal ideation- suicide due to depression or suicide due to rage.

The first type of suicidal ideation derives from depression. It needs to be emphasized that depression is a psychological disorder different from normal sadness and grief. The person suffering from depression has a combination of following signs and symptoms: having a low, sad and negative feeling most of the time, feeling exhausted and fatigued, loss of interest and enjoyment in everything, moving away from close ones, disturbed sleep and appetite, decreased attention, concentration and memory and feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. Unlike normal sadness, these symptoms persist most of the time and no positive life experience can change them. The individual suffering from moderate to severe depression is convinced that there is no alternative and nothing can change their state. The depressed person feels a complete failure and sees little hope that the state of affairs can improve. When this sense of hopelessness becomes unshakable and intolerable the person sees no point in continuing and there is a wish to embrace death as an escape. The suicidal ideation emanating from depression has a very high lethality and generally the person is successful in killing themselves.

The second type of suicide derives from rage especially when the individual feels let down by significant others. The person carries a fantasy that hurting them will make significant others feel guilty. The suicide attempt is a vehicle for getting back the love, approval or any other desired response from significant others. Such individuals generally come up with suicide attempts which range from mild to moderate lethality and are often saved.

People who commit suicide do not wish to die; they just cannot tolerate the pain. All individuals who are contemplating suicide often make subtle requests for help which we tend to miss and this traumatizes them further. The person may talk explicitly about death and dying, killing or harming themselves, seeking out weapons and drugs which can be used to commit suicide, share a sense that life is unbearable, convey that they are a burden, make unexpected visits and plans to get closer to or move away from others, indulge in risky behavior or appear calm all of a sudden after a period of being agitated.

If someone conveys their distress it is important to acknowledge it and try to understand them from their perspective. Telling the person to be brave and dismissing their concerns as trivial are the things we often do with the intention of being helpful. However, these steps prove to be counterproductive and alienate the person further. When feeling low a person looks for a compassionate presence that feels and thinks just like oneself, is able to share their reality and if they get this kind of a connection they feel supported and can pull out of suicidal ideation. Once a connection has been established the person should be encouraged to seek professional help from a psychologist. In-depth psychological treatment effectively removes suicidal ideation and restores hope.

India, our country does lack resources to invest in mental health and therefore we may continue to lack proper infrastructure but simply becoming more aware can go a long way in preventing suicides.

Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist & Spiritual Therapist in private practice at Pondicherry (Puducherry), near Auroville. Email:- info@thepsychologistindia.com