Wednesday, January 16, 2019

When People Tried To End Their Lives

In Kochi and Melbourne, recent research by Dr. Fr Saju M D and Dr Lynette Joubert, on survivors of suicide have shown that the leading cause is a relationship breakdown

Photos: Illustration by Tapas Ranjan; Dr. Fr Saju M D and Dr Lynette Joubert

By Shevlin Sebastian    

When Asha Nair (name changed) told her mother that she was in love with a classmate, who belonged to a lower caste, her mother spoke harshly to her. “Forget about him,” her mother said. “We will never allow it.”

Asha felt a mixture of intense anger and hopelessness. It would seem as if the earth had opened up and she was sinking. She started taking quick intakes of breath. Asha could not think clearly. She ran to the kitchen, opened the kerosene can and poured the liquid on her body. Then she lit a matchstick and touched it against her clothes.

The result: 90 per cent of burns. At the hospital, Asha lingered between life and death. At that time, Dr Fr. Saju M D, Asst. Director and Administrator, Rajagiri College of Social Sciences, Kochi along with a few students were interviewing suicide survivors. They spoke to Asha. “She felt a regret about her rash action,” says Fr. Saju. “Asha wanted to show her anger towards her family, so she took this extreme step.” Tragically, luck was not in her favour. She died five days later.

Between 2016 and 2018, there were 12,490 suicides in Kerala. Fr. Saju says most of the victims were young and the major cause was a romantic relationship. “Either the parents did not accept the relationship or the affair broke down,” he says. “Young people lack an emotional resilience to overcome difficult moments.”

Most of these people are introverts and reluctant to share an intimate problem with their family members or even to their friends. “They don’t want to bring shame to the family by talking about it to others,” says Fr. Saju.  

So they resort to suicide. “It is usually a sudden decision,” says the priest. But interestingly, many women survive because they are unable to complete the act. On the other hand, males are more purposeful and kill themselves. In the group’s survey of 46 victims, in three hospitals in Kochi, 61.4 per cent of the suicide survivors were single women. They ranged in age from the late teens to age 25. And around 78 per cent had a history of depression and anxiety.

Incidentally, Fr. Saju was working closely with Dr Lynette Joubert, Professor of Social Work in the Department of Social Work at the University of Melbourne. She, along with Fr. Saju were resource persons at DYUTI 19 (Development Yearnings for an United and Transformed India) conducted by the School of Social Work, Rajagiri College of Social Sciences last week.

In fact, Saju got the idea of the survey when Lynette told him that she, along with a team had done a study of 120 suicide survivors in an emergency department of a hospital in Melbourne over a six-week period.  

The breakdown of relationships is the biggest cause for suicide,” says Lynette. The other reasons are poor physical health, drug abuse and financial stresses, like losing a job.”

All this can result in a deep depression. “We also noticed that most of them did not have any friends,” says Lynette. “This social isolation prompts a person to kill him or herself.”  

Asked the different ways people harm themselves, Lynette says, “In Australia, it is usually through tablet overdose. Some have shot themselves. Others have hanged or jumped off bridges. There are cases where people have cut the veins on their wrists. A few told me they felt a mental relief when they did it. But they did not intend to kill themselves.”

So, to avoid such a scenario, it is very important to have a social network, a group of close friends with whom you can confide in. “If you have such a network, you can find a way to solve your problems,” says Lynette.   
In Kerala, she says, you can get help too. “There are psychologists, counsellors and health clinics, just go and tell someone, ‘I need to talk this through’,” she says. “There's no shame in it. All of us can feel depressed at some point or the other.”

Interestingly, suicide is a worldwide problem. Last year, more than 8 lakh people killed themselves. But in Australia, astonishingly, the highest number of suicides is in the 80 plus group.

The victims live completely isolated lives,” says Lynette, “All of them do not stay in old age homes especially if they are healthy. There are many farmers who find it difficult to manage the finances especially if there is a drought. It forces many of them to take the extreme step. So we have to find a way to tackle this problem.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)

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