Editorial: Suicidal Still

When will the numbers become too many to ignore?

Suicides might not make it to headlines as often as they used to, but that is more because this newspaper has come to terms with the fact that mere reportage was serving no constructive purpose anymore. A news-report on a suicide was never about just informing people about another self-inflicted death, it was more importantly about flagging a concern about the frequency with which such fatalities were occurring. So no, fewer news reports do not mean that lives are not being lost to this distressing phenomenon. On Wednesday alone, three suicides were reported in Sikkim - a 16 year old daughter of Sikkim marked one end of the age spectrum and on the same day, another 17 year old girl committed suicide in another part of Sikkim and word also arrived of a 34 year old man ending his life by suicide as well. At the other end of the age spectrum was 67 year old grandfather who also gave up similarly. A sixteen year old committing suicide should be an aberration. In fact, it should never happen, and even if it does, it should be such a rarity that the entire state goes into mourning, wracked by guilt for having allowed a teenager to slip into such deep levels of depression that she ended up taking her own life. Unfortunately, such news does not even shock any more, with even newspapers reporting it in passing, pulling sanitised details from police records, reporting about a suicide, but not about the life that was lost or the situations which led that final moment when a child tied a noose with a nylon rope, hung herself and then suffocated to death. Just as it is worrying to learn that the psychological distress can overcome the exuberance of youth to such an extent, it is also disconcerting to learn that even the obvious maturity of age has failed to overcome the trauma of mental distress, as must have been the case with the 67 year old. Too many people are succumbing to suicide, a problem which grips all age groups, social strata and locations in the State. Suicides are always a worry and even more so when it claims lives so young. The phenomenon is so routine nowadays that most readers probably don’t even read the reports any more. It is also troubling to learn that the society at large has become so inured to this condition without even having tried to understand or address the problem. It is obvious that depression is a common ailment among suicide victims, but what cannot escape notice is the fact that one does not even associate such problems as depression and stress with the teen years [at least not of an intensity that would lead to suicide]. Yet, a disturbing number of Sikkim’s young have taken their own lives. There might be even more who have survived a suicide attempt. While one can theorise endlessly on why the present day youth is so troubled, it is urgent to start caring for them. Urban pressures, peer pressures, hormonal pressures, academic pressure - these are only some of the tensions which one goes through growing up. Until newspapers started reporting about suicides and the police started documenting such unnatural deaths more diligently, Sikkim lived in an idyll believing that suicides could not happen in the relaxed environs of the hill state. That idyll now stands shattered, not because suicides have started happening only now, but because now we are learning about it regularly. So, let us not go complaining that the times have changed or that the past was better; suicides were always happening… accept it. And now, let’s start addressing the problem. Begin with having experts sensitising teachers and community groups on recognising and handling such psychiatric symptoms as stress, depression and trauma in school-going children. Yes, some efforts were made towards this end some years ago, but the effort was not as well coordinated as it should have been, and worse still, has not even been sustained. Since no concerted effort has yet been launched to address suicides, an initiative should now begin which cushions the young better. While psychiatry might be an iffy science for most, it has been proven that if symptoms are recognised in time there are options to address every psychiatric ailment. Let us accept the fact that the younger generation is growing in conditions much different from earlier times. They need special care and understanding. As teachers, parents and elders, we have to change our approach towards addressing juvenile issues. Also, as the generation at decision-making levels, we should also approach the problems of senior citizens with more empathy. Why do people, especially such young people and such senior citizens, commit suicide? Sikkim needs to engage itself more closely to identify the triggers, address them and save more lives. There is nothing new that has been said here, but hopefully, there will be some new initiatives soon.