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We need to talk about mental health

Suicide is most common among people aged between 15 and 29 and is the leading cause of death in this demographic.

We need to talk about mental health
Many of us feel lost when it comes to understanding and talking about mental health.

September 10 marks World Suicide Day. India has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world but in society, the problem is brushed under the carpet. Suicidal thoughts are common, especially when a person is under stress, or suffering from a depression. Suicide is most common among people aged between 15 and 29 and is the leading cause of death in this demographic. Experts say that the majority of these cases are temporary and can be treated. Despair need not end in tragedy, especially if professional help is sought. Even so, the stigma persists and those who suffer are reluctant to share their pain, reports Pavan Rao

Kartik (name changed), a class 9 student, couldn’t understand why he felt sad for most of his day. He preferred not to be around friends and when they forced him to play, he would become irritable. He would cry about small things, but couldn’t figure out why this was happening to him. At home, he wanted to speak about it to his parents but couldn’t find the right time as they seemed busy, He preferred to be alone in his room. Although his parents observed the change in him, they attributed it being in the challenging 9th and10th grades.

Kartik thought about talking to his teacher, but he felt she would see it as an excuse for his missed homework and he was afraid his friends would make fun of him by calling him ‘mad,’ if he confided in them.. He just wanted the feelings, pain and sadness to stop and was ready do anything to achieve this. In despair, he even thought of jumping off the balcony.

Kartik could be anyone, even your child or you as a child. The problem is not the mental health issue , but the communication barriers. Mental health issues are treatable and most can be even cured. Stigma, lack of awareness, fear of talking about mental health, communication gap, and neglect lead to distress and create a wall between mental illness and mental wellness. But even if the road to reaching out for help is full of barriers, change is possible.

We need to start talking about mental health and not leave it only to professionals. We can start by normalising talk around it. We need to sit with our children, our colleagues or our friends and family and have an open discussion about mental illness as well as mental wellness. One should share one’s battles with negative emotions, triumph over depression, seeking help in time of need and offering support in distress. Talking about mental illness helps.

Many of us feel lost when it comes to understanding and talking about mental health. What’s to be said? What is the right approach? To make yourself empowered, you should start educating yourself. Having the right combination of reliability and authenticity is necessity. Being the first point of contact for loved ones, you can make a huge difference.

Workshops like YMHFA (Youth Mental Health First Aid) are designed specifically for the general population to enable them to help their young ones. A two-day certificate course can empower you to become a first aider in mental health. Comprehensive education on mental health issues and easy to remember instructions on helping youngsters make this a valuable source of knowledge

While many schools are in the process of implementing a mental health curriculum, this should be done widely. This way we will not only make resilient children and adults, but also create a stigma -free support system for children in distress. One small step of accepting mental health at par with physical health by parents, teachers and schools will go a long way in making a difference! Let’s come together and normalise talk around mental health and empower all ‘Kartiks’ out there to seek help!

Writer is a psychiatrist and head, medical service, Mpower, an organisation working to create awareness about mental health.

Suicidal youth: India tops the charts
Mental health clearly needs attention as the first comprehensive ‘Mental Health Survey’ conducted by NIMHANS in 2106, found that an estimated 15 crore people were in need of mental health interventions in the country.

In fact, in 2012 there were 19,120 suicides in 53 of India's largest cities. While Chennai reported the highest number of suicides of 2,183 that year, Bengaluru was not far behind with 1,989. Delhi came next with 1,397 and Mumbai followed with 1,296.

Among the states, Madhya Pradesh reported the highest rate of suicides at 45.1 per cent per 1,00,000 population, followed by Kerala at 40.5 per cent per 1,00,000 population, about four times higher than national average.

Worryingly, the country has one of world’s highest rates of suicides among people in the 15 to 29 age group. Worse, it is the leading cause of death among them. It is also estimated that one out of every six suicides in the country is committed by a housewife and nearly 67.3 per cent of female victims and 70.5 per cent of male victims are married.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) the main reasons for suicides in the country in 2015 were family problems, which accounted for 34 per cent and illnesses, which were responsible for 17.2 per cent. Together they accounted for 51.1 per cent of all suicides.

In 2014, as many as 28,602 suicides were due to family problems, 23,746 due to illness, 15,419 due to prolonged illness and 7,104 due to mental illness in the country.

With September 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day experts are now emphasising the need for everyone, whether it be mental health professionals, the media or families, to work together to prevent suicides.

Says Dr Gururaj, senior professor, department of epidemiology and public health at NIHMANS , “In terms of mental health there are two types of interventions, pharmacological and non-pharmacological. If a person is suffering from mental distress it is good for him/her to seek help by using various helplines online, talking to friends or family or any person they trust. They may not tell you what exactly to do, but they may give you a boost and provide some other options that may help postpone suicidal thoughts.”

Fortunately, besides being home to one of the biggest and most reputed mental health facilities in the country, NIMHANS, Karnataka also offers a state- run 24x7 helpline, Arogya Sahayavani 104, which provides counselling for a wide range of medical issues including depression and suicidal thoughts. There is also the Sahai helpline, 080-25497777, which functions between 10 am and 8 pm, Monday to Saturday, and is open to calls from people in distress.

Tragedy is not the only way out, seek help
Bengaluru once again woke up to the tragedy of a life lost to suicide Sunday morning. While it has in the past seen students kill themselves over poor marks and stress over exams, or men and women commit suicide over family quarrels, this time it was faced with the suicide of a 52- year- old Indian Forest Service Officer, Awtar Singh, who was found hanging in his bedroom in an apartment in Yelahanka.

From Haryana, the officer left no suicide note, but it is thought his failing health could be responsible. His death is the latest instance of suicides by seemingly normal people, who give no indication of anything amiss until they commit the act. Not too long ago, Bengaluru was shocked by the suicide of the founder of the highly successful beverage chain, Cafe Coffee Day, V G Siddhartha, who jumped off a bridge apparently burdened by his financial problems.

These suicides make news as they involve high profile individuals,but there are many more that are forgotten after their two para mention in newspapers. In 2018 the city saw around 1,921 suicides, 50 per cent more than the number reported in 2017. Of the 1,921 cases, 399 involved women and 793, men.

While suicidal thoughts can arise from depression, anxiety, eating disorders such as anorexia, substance abuse and so on, some attribute the high suicide rate in the city to the loneliness that often accompanies those who arrive here, leaving their families behind, to chase their dreams and aspirations. The isolation can intensify to a state referred to as anomie in sociological terms, which can leave the individual feeling a disconnect with his environment and helpless to cope with it, according to experts.

But they emphasise that this sense of hopelessness doesn’t have to end in tragedy. A significant number of mental health problems, including depression, can be successfully treated or managed with medication, therapies and counselling, they note. To begin with the vulnerable need to be identified and treated before it is too late, in their view.

Says Dr. Ambrish Dharmadhikari, psychiatrist and head, medical services, Mpower, an organisation working to create awareness about mental health, “We need to start talking about mental health. We need to sit with our children , or our colleagues or friends and family and have an open discussion about mental illness as well as mental wellness. One should share one’s battles with negative emotions, seeking help in time of need and offering support in distress. Talking about mental illness helps.”

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