Yes! Suicides are preventable

Dr. Raminder Jit Singh
“People commit suicide through weakness,
Not through strength” – T.H White
Suicide is defined as an act in which person kills himself or an intentional self-slaughter, or undertakes a mission involving his own death, or action destructive to one’s own interests. Suicide is one of the major public health problems across the Globe. According to latest Report on Suicides from the World Health Organization (W.H.O) approximately one million people across the World die by suicide each year. This corresponds to one death by suicide every 40 seconds. The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined. Suicide attempts and suicidal ideation are far more common; for example, the number of suicide attempts is up to 20 times the number of deaths by suicide. According to the Report most suicides in the world occur in the South-East Asia Region (39 per cent of those in low- and middle-income countries in South-East Asia alone) with India accounting for the highest estimated number of suicides overall in 2012.The psychological pain that leads the individuals to take their lives is unimaginable. Their deaths leave families and friends bereft, and often have a major ripple effect on communities.
According to the latest report on statistics available on the ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India, in the year 2013, more than one lakh persons (1,34,799) in the country lost their lives by committing suicide. The number of suicides in the country during the decade (2003-2013) has recorded an increase of 21.6% (1,34,799 in 2013 from 1,10,851 in 2003). The highest incidents of 16,622 suicides were reported in Maharashtra followed by 16,601 suicides in Tamil Nadu accounting for 12.3% each of total suicides. Andhra Pradesh (14,607 suicides), West Bengal (13,055 suicides) and Karnataka (11,266 suicides) accounted for 10.8%, 9.7% and 8.4% respectively of the total suicides reported in the country. These 5 States together accounted for 53.5% of the total suicides reported in the country. The remaining 46.5% suicides were reported in the rest of 23 States and 7 UTs. It is estimated that one in 60 persons in our country are affected by suicide; it includes both, those who have attempted suicide and those who have been affected by the suicide of a close family or friend.
The Big question that comes to our mind is – Can suicides be prevented? The answer is Yes!  Reducing suicide requires a collective, concerted effort from all groups in the society. Education seeks to decrease the incidents of suicidal behaviours and depression. Educational programmes for Health Care Givers, Police, Welfare workers who are likely to come in contact with people who are at risk of taking this extreme step of suicide. Such a group can be trained to ask about possible suicide intent and make referrals to social centers or individuals trained to deal with such problems. Special awareness programmes can be organized for high risk population especially the students, professionals, Defense personnel working in conflict zones and victims of domestic violence who succumb to depression and suicide. Efforts to contact these groups and provide counseling, socialization, vocational and recreational programmes, up to large extent can reduce number of depressions and suicides. Educational programmes that increase vocational skills can help the individual to develop concept of self-reliance which consequently decreases feeling of powerlessness and helplessness. In Educational Institutions, the counseling staff should be trained to recognize the students with early symptoms of depression. The students who exhibit such signs should be properly counseled or referred to mental health professionals.
Another effective way to counter suicides is education about religion and culture. Faith in God and one’s own culture helps in providing strength to the individual. Almost all religions through their teachings oppose suicide and suicidal thoughts. Suicide is one of the great sins in Islam. Allah says explicitly in the Holy Quran,
“And do not kill yourselves. Surely, Allah is Most Merciful to you.” (Surah An-Nisa Verse 29)
According to Hinduism, ‘The law of action is inexorable and inescapable. It is not bound by the chain of time. If you commit suicide now, you may get the circumstances in the next birth which is worse than those at the present’
Jainism also advocates that the killing of any living being is unethical and a sin. Christianity has also opposed self destruction. The Sikh Gurus also rejected suicide, according to them we do not have the right to give or take life. Birth and death are at the mercy of our dear creator. Aristotle, Pythagoras, St Thomas Aquinas, St Augustine, Jesus Christ, Guru Nanak and Socrates also considered suicide as unlawful and a sin. Religious discourses can have calming effect on an individual which in turn negates suicidal tendencies in an individual. The Religious Centers in Cities & towns should be strengthened. These Centers should have some trained religious personnel with whom the people can discuss their problems.
In India, attempted suicide is a punishable offence. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code states that “whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such an offense shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with a fine or with both”. However, the aim of the law to prevent suicide by legal methods has proved to be counter-productive in India. Emergency care to those who have attempted suicide is denied as many hospitals and practitioners hesitate to provide the much needed treatment fearful of legal hassles. For the success of suicide prevention strategy decriminalizing attempted suicide is the need of the hour.
The diminishing traditional family support systems leave people vulnerable to suicidal behavior. A person with suicidal tendency needs someone in whom he could confide and off-load some of his apprehensions and problems. If he finds someone who listens to him, his suicidal tendencies diminish to large extent, hence there is an emerging need for external emotional support. The enormity of the problem combined with the paucity of mental health service has led to the emergence of NGOs in the field of suicide prevention. The NGO’s through their suicide prevention centers can undertake the task of informing and educating the public about the problem of suicide through various mass media like television, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc. The humane touch and elderly advice of the personnel of these centers can help a lot in providing solace to the individuals with suicidal ideation.
There is an urgent need to develop a plan for suicide prevention both at State and National level in India. The priority areas should involve educating the public, training key persons in the community, establishing suicide prevention canters, making legal provisions about dealing with suicides, creating grievances redressal cells in the judiciary, etc. All these steps can help in eradicating the menace of suicides from our Society.
(The author is founder & Director of Registered Suicide Prevention Organization)