Talking about suicide and depression

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Last week brought the news of the death in a case of suicide of ace comedian and actor Robin Williams. The immediate outpouring of grief over the death of the much loved and critically acclaimed artiste was later followed by news and revelations of run in with depression. It was irony at its most tragic twist for the man who had kept the laughs coming was battling a lonely fight that ultimately led him to take his life. The latest in the Robin Williams death is the actor being earlier diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the brain, eventually leading to severe movement problems and restricting mobility, speech etc which has no cure. The actor did have earlier bouts of cocaine abuse and alcohol and his battles to stay sober were not only successful but became the gist of his various stand up comic acts and programs. But with Parkinson’s came the weight of depression, which as per the Amerian National Parkinson Foundation study is ‘part of the disease process itself’. It goes on to say that more than half of those with Parkinson’s suffer from clinical depression, which affects the quality of life more than the motor impairments of the disease.

Depression, a state of mind characterized by low self esteem, long spells or continuous bouts of low mood and loss of interest in life can be episodic i.e. based on certain incidences like meeting a failure in career or personal lives but when one cannot cope through the episodes and it becomes a pattern, it ends up affecting the physiological health of a person and becomes dangerous. For many who have to face the aspect of a life long affliction that does not have a cure yet but brings with it prolonged battles, as in the case of Parkinson’s, HIV and AIDS amongst others, suicide is almost like a side effect. Apart from chronic depression, there are various factors that contribute to suicide. We can see around us all too clearly that when major examination results are announced, there are instances of young students committing suicide or when young people are faced with the failure of a relationship. Often, people no matter what their age take the drastic step of taking their own lives at the thought of facing prejudice or social stigma but what probably makes it difficult to recognize suicidal tendencies is very often that we are all uncomfortable to talk about failures and the person is left all the more alone.

Unfortunately, mental health is not an area that is easily understood or accepted by the public at large and the stigma associated with talking of coping with them is such that consulting with mental health experts in itself is laughed upon and judged. The lack of studies notwithstanding, women who face domestic violence or constant verbal abuses in their marital relationships are easy prey to depression and suicide. But the societal pressure on women alone to cope with the demands of marital life mean that they continue to either face domestic abuse or fall prey to suicidal tendencies. Dowry harassment is also another huge factor contributing to suicides amongst married women going by reported cases. Huge financial losses and economic pressure in terms of major debts is another factor that contributes to a substantial number of suicides amongst poor farmers. But in India, the law is not too kind on people who have been driven to suicide as the existing Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code in fact awards a maximum punishment of imprisonment for one year for attempted suicide, thereby adding further on to the amount of baggage that led the person towards suicide. Thankfully, efforts are on to address this bit of Section 309 following recommendations from the Law Commission. But along with the laws, mindsets will have to change to prevent suicides and the first step would be to address depression in its advent.

Leader Writer: Chitra Ahanthem

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