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Kerala recording fifth highest rate of suicides in the Country

Published in General Sunday, 12 September 2021 13:54


~ COVID-19 pandemic has been a major cause for rising rates of depression, anxiety and stress among the masses ~


Kochi : As per data released by the National Crime Records Bureau in 2019, Kerala reported the fifth highest rate of suicides in the country in 2019 (24.3%), which was significantly higher than the all-India rate (10.2%) and the worrying trend has only been gaining further momentum, especially during Covid times. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide every year wherein India tops the South-East Asian countries in the rates of suicides.


In a bid to raise global awareness on suicide and to renew worldwide commitment to prevent suicides, World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10 each year to focus on building mental resilience and this year the theme for the day is ‘Creating Hope Through Action’. It aims to empower individuals to prevent suicides by reaching out to those who are struggling and instilling hope in them.


Elaborating on the alarming trend, Dr Kathleen Anne Mathew, Senior Resident, Psychiatry & Behaviour Medicine, Amrita Hospitals said, “A study conducted by the International Journal of Mental Health Systems which examined suicidal behaviour during COVID-19 lockdown in India found a 67.7% increase in online news media reports of suicidal behaviour. As per the study, there were 369 cases of suicides and attempted suicides during this period as against 220 reported suicides in the corresponding dates in 2019. In 2019, the suicides reported during the lockdown were by significantly older individuals, who were more likely to be between the ages of 31 and 50. A larger number of these suicides were by men. Additional data showed that these suicide cases were more likely to be by those who were married and employed. Four victims were reported as suffering from depression based on reports from relatives, and three victims were noted to have alcohol dependence with withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol-related suicides were reported exclusively in South Indian states, while depression was reported in victims from North and Central Indian states.”


Various theories have been put forward in understanding this phenomenon. The perception of being a burden to others and a sense of not belonging are strong risk factors for a desire to end one’s life. Hopelessness resulting from painful life experiences is another major reason driving a person towards suicidal thoughts.


Talking about how hope and care can prevent a person from dying by suicide, Dr Mathew said, “COVID-19 pandemic has been a major cause for rising rates of depression, anxiety and stress among the masses. Many have lost their means of livelihood as part of lockdown restrictions mandating closing down of shops and other establishments. Social isolation measures have led to individuals being with their partners for a prolonged duration due to which families with pre-existing marital discord are witnessing intimate partner violence, and some related suicide deaths. The elderly, many of whom stay alone, with chronic medical conditions, suffer from loneliness, fear of contracting COVID-19 infection and inadequate domestic support. Children who have been confined to their homes with lack of social interaction, excessive use of social media and learning difficulties because of online classes, are particularly vulnerable to detrimental mental health effects. Social stigma and fear of infecting close family members have been factors implicated in suicides in COVID-affected individuals. Psychiatric disorders, particularly depression and substance use disorders are associated with high suicidal risk.”


Interpersonal connectedness is a significant protective factor against suicides and acts as a deterrent. Various studies in the past such as the one on suicide attempters at the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, conducted over a period of 30 years noted that a majority of attempters were dissuaded from their attempt by prompt interventions by passersby or the police and did not reattempt suicide. This fact reflects on the power of a well-timed intervention which can work wonders in pulling a distressed individual out of their acute suicidal crisis and even provide an anchor to latch onto life.


Dr Mathew further added, “Interactions with others and feeling cared for can infuse positive feelings which are definitely powerful enough to thwart suicidal thoughts. Individual factors such as spiritual beliefs and a sense of purpose or meaning in life, contribute to resilience and can mitigate the risk of suicide. Instilling hope in someone in their darkest moments is a powerful means to generate positive coping strategies. There are four strategies that can be utilized to help such individuals. Ask - If you notice that a friend or family member is struggling, ask about their thoughts. This can be the first step in ensuring they receive help. Reach out – Don’t be hesitant to intervene, listen with compassion and be non-judgmental. Access help - Get necessary professional assistance from a psychiatrist if they have persisting suicidal thoughts. Follow up – Check on them and show that you care by leaving a message or calling up.”


Timely action can act as a beacon of hope to fellow-beings on the verge of giving up and in reconnecting them to life. As Dr Albert Schweitzer said, “Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.”

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