Let’s talk suicide. That’s the problem. Not suicide itself but the fact that it is the elephant in the room for most of us and we don’t talk enough about it. In most cases, the real reason behind suicide is clinical depression or a mental health issue that family and close friends are often barely aware of, because they ignore the signs or simply cannot decode them.
Nearly 15 years ago, I remember attending a talk where the speaker announced that he would be speaking on suicide prevention. There was consternation in the family audience who were expecting a feel-good session on meditation and prayer. Angry parents said that this was inappropriate for their pre-teen and teenage children. Calmly, the speaker asked all those who had thought about suicide even once in their lives to raise their hands. To the horror of the parents, nearly 50 per cent of the children raised their hands.
And what were the reasons? Besides the usual suspects of poor school grades, body-shaming, bullying and break-ups, many of the youngsters were simply locked in a stress cycle that they found overwhelming and unmanageable. Fast-forward to today – the problem is exacerbated by cyber-bullying, which is far more damaging than classroom and playground intimidation.
For adults too, many of these reasons are valid, along with financial struggles and family responsibilities. What pushes a person to taking his/her life, though, is mental instability, either temporary or deep-seated. Every other reason given is a cry for help and we fail to read or hear the signals.
What we need to first do is dismantle in our own circles, the stigma attached to acknowledging mental trauma. A British friend told me she never used the NHS for treating her depression because insurance companies would then flag her as unstable and charge her very high premiums life-long. Many Asian families seek to ignore or hide mental conditions, fearing isolation and how it would affect the person’s career and matrimonial choices. Sufferers themselves go to great lengths to avoid discussion about their problem even though it is easier today to manage with therapy and medication – they worry that they will be shunned by family, lose their jobs and friends.
The community in Bahrain has reacted vigorously to the spate of suicides, publicising hotline numbers and offering counselling. What more can we do? You may not be a sufferer but if you simply understand the signs of mental distress and can walk alongside your friend or relative as they seek to find their way back to a safer zone – then you are honouring the relationship in huge measure and perhaps saving a life.
When I make suggestions on what we can do, I often get remarks about why I cannot personally tackle the matter by volunteering on a hotline or talking to authorities about these issues. Each one of us contributes in the best way possible – journalists by bringing the public’s attention to the issue, community volunteers by working to implement solutions and the authorities by enabling the social space for such support.
In this spirit, may I suggest that every club and organisation dedicate one meeting every month to mental well-being? Not tucked away into a dead weekday but as the centrepiece of a week-end’s activities. Organisations which hold medical camps must also watch for mental conditions that need intervention. Companies must be pro-active in screening workers for signs of mental conditions, just as they monitor workplace safety rules.
Together, we are a safety net for those in need.