Suicide rates in India have doubled in just the last five years, says psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria, who felt it was time to create awareness about this issue. She speaks to SheThePeople.TV about her new book ‘Death is Not the Answer’, which released this year.
She speaks about how women attempt suicide more than men, how you can help a friend who is going through depression, her experiences over the last 27 years in psychiatry, and how the media should portray these issues better.
1. How and why did the idea of writing this book come about? What was the goal you wanted to accomplish?
I have been a psychiatrist for 27 years. Suicide rates have doubled in the last three to five years. I realized that there is no Indian book which addresses suicide, and I was shocked to know this. So I thought to myself who else is going to write this?
My goal for the book is that I want every common person to able to recognize the symptoms of suicide-prone people.
Today if someone gets a heart attack, everyone knows what to do. But if your best friend calls you saying they are suicidal, you won’t know what to do
I also wanted to dispel all the myths and misconceptions people have about suicide. Hopefully, suicide rates can decrease by increasing awareness.
2.Your book has a section on dealing with someone going through severe depression. What advice would you give to someone who is dealing with a person with suicidal thoughts?
Depression can be treated very easily. Gone are the days when psychiatrists used to prescribe lots of medicines and give shock treatments. Nowadays, there are other treatments besides medication, which include therapy and non-invasive stimulation techniques.
The first thing to do with someone who is going through this is to remember that they are only talking about it because they want help. This means that he or she does not actually want to die. So please give them your shoulder
You should treat suicidal thoughts as a medical emergency, remove dangerous objects, and move the person to a safer place. Intoxicants should be kept away. Sometimes, people will say come have a drink, you will feel better. But alcohol worsens suicidal ideas. 75 per cent of people who kill themselves were under the influence of alcohol or other substances.
You should never mock the person. Most who kill themselves have spoken about it before, and so they should be taken seriously. You should try and stay with the person till the idea has passed away or till you manage to take them to a professional. Convince them to get help. Accompany them. Talk to a family member.
3. Do you feel the stigma around mental disorders is reducing?
The stigma is definitely going down, but we are still at the tip of the iceberg. We need more mental health awareness, and people to talk openly. Mental health is as important as physical health. We need to work harder, we are becoming the suicide capital of the world
4. Why do three times more women than men attempt suicide? And why is suicide so prevalent among ages 15-29?
Women attempt suicide more than men, but men complete suicide more than women. The number of housewives who commit suicide is double the number of farmer suicides
There are different reasons for this. Women are often suppressed — even if they are earning, they are not making decisions. A woman attempts suicide, often as a cry for help. Women also talk to people about their problems more openly.
India has the highest number of teenagers in the world, according to the WHO. But nothing is being done in terms of suicide prevention.
We have grown technologically, but emotionally, we have a long way to go in terms of seeking help. There’s a huge mismatch between increasing pressures, and lack of a good support system
A person will be taken to a baba (godman), but not a psychiatrist as that is till taboo. There is increasing stress on youngsters to perform well, to look good on social media, to have relationships. The suicidal triad is when you feel worthless, helpless and hopeless.
Also Read: Depression in Teenage Girls Rising: Study
5. In your personal practice you meet many individuals who suffer from major depression. How do you keep yourself mentally healthy?
I love what I do. I spend 12-14 hours a day at my clinic. My aim is to bring back the smile on your face. If I can talk you out of hurting yourself, I feel like I have accomplished something. A person who is suicidal is looking at the world through their own coloured lenses and I want to give them the courage and the strength to change that.
7. How does the media portray suicide wrongly? And how should one speak about and portray these topics?
I think the media should not go overboard while reporting a suicide. There are guidelines on reporting suicide. The reporter need not describe the details of the attempt
It should also try to include a message and be educative by listing warning signs and numbers of helplines.
8. Who is the audience for the book — because it starts with a questionnaire asking how suicidal are you? So is it someone who is a mental health professional, is it more of a self-help book or is it more informative for people who want to learn how to deal with loved ones who are suicidal?
The book is dedicated to anyone who can help. It is not a self-help book. It is for any educated person to understand and prevent suicide. Surprisingly, even family doctors do not know how to handle it. A doctor will just say go on a holiday, but would he say that if his patient had malaria? A family doctor is often the first person to be contacted if there is a suicide attempt, and he should know what steps to take.
8. Why the choice of Shabana Azmi for the foreword?
She represents intelligence, strength, and a modern woman who is can fight against the norms of society. She is the best person to educate people about the cause. The book also has contributions from Tina Ambani, lawyer Mrinalini Deshmukh on law and suicide, and Dr Harish Shetty. Lots of people have come forward to support the cause.
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What was your writing process like?
It has taken me 15 months to write the book. It is such a heavy topic that there were days when I couldn’t write more than a few pages. It has been a learning process, more so in the last few months as two people close to me were suicidal. It was emotionally draining. My aim is that every school, office, doctor, and college should have a copy of this book.
Also Read: Conflict, Gendered Violence and the Mental Health Crisis in Kashmir