Trigger Warning: This post contains thoughts on whether it is possible to identify people who might suddenly be at risk of self-harm or suicide. If this is not a topic of interest, or you are currently not in the frame of mind to read anything stressful, please close this tab.
Many of us experience helplessness when we hear of a suicide. Irrespective of if it was someone we knew, a celebrity, or a businessperson. Especially perhaps, if it was a student, a helpless farmer, or even an unknown name from some obscure corner of the country or the world. The feeling of helplessness still hits many of us.
Last week, there was a brief discussion on chat between some close friends and me. One friend was trying to find cues in old interviews of Sushant Singh Rajput. To see if there were tell-tale signs in them of any impending suicide intent. The authorities were right in saying one should not speculate based on almost no information. The helplessness, however, forces us to look for answers. To find an explanation that would turn helplessness into sadness or anger, or both. The mind prefers either to the state of not knowing coupled with helplessness.
It is also human tendency, to subconsciously look for early warning signs the person might have exhibited.
Maybe it is just our helpless attempt to undo the past.
A few things we need to remember. Firstly, depression is not the only cause of suicide. There are many other causes. They include psychosis and momentary lapses of reason (sometimes induced or aggravated by alcohol or drugs). As are helplessness in situations (a sudden financial loss, etc.), or a mistake. Native Japanese practiced Seppuku to preserve honour or as a form of self-punishment for serious offenses. Secondly, depression itself can have numerous underlying causes for it. And it is not easy for family, friends or outsiders to conclusively arrive at one or more causes for someone’s depression.
A lot of people suffer from a variety of concerns. From regrets about the past, social pressures, anxieties about the future, among many others.
Many simply learn to live with it. Some becoming increasingly numb to life itself. Others probably do not, and toy with self-harm. Some effects could range from binge eating to excessive drinking or drug abuse. And some could manifest as suicidal tendencies. That said, this post is not about identifying or helping address those suffering from depression.
The objective here, something I’ve wondered about, is a possible way to spot someone who might be close to a breaking point in dealing with their personal battles or thoughts or life itself. To see if it there is a way to identify those who might be at risk of self-harm. And to provide an intervention if possible. So that a good life would not be lost because of an unrelenting ecosystem or one’s condition or difficulties in trying to cope with it.
While one can only hope that people suffering from depression are getting the professional support they need, in my limited knowledge, I’d categorize those at risk of self-harm into two categories:
(i) those who have such thoughts from time to time, walking a tightrope; and
(ii) those who may not have considered self-harm, but a sudden change in their ecosystem suddenly makes it an option they consider
My thoughts are around possibly addressing the second kind. If one knows someone who is going through a challenging phase, and one hears of a case of suicide or self harm from someone either known to those people, or hailing from the same or similar professional field or having some other factors in common, one must consider the possibility that these people might be at risk. You could either directly or indirectly reach out even if just to check. Ideally without directly broaching the topic.
There are a few reasons I believe news of self harm by someone sharing common ground could increase risk of self-harm in some people. Firstly, in case of the same or similar professions, many people could be going through similar challenges due to either an employer or a sector slowdown or some other impact. The hundreds of farmers that have sacrificed their lives is a grim example of this. An inefficient sector with limited government support, irrational weather, scavenging money lenders and middlemen, all constantly fuel the recipe for disaster.
Similarly, a student going through a rough phase might be holding on. But on hearing of other instances of students causing self-harm, a previous never considered option might suddenly sound like a respite. Secondly, a common thread connecting two strangers could also cause one to cause self-harm on hearing about the suicide of the other. There have been a number of suicides among common citizens upon hearing of the death (even of natural causes or illness) of their favourite politician or movie star. Here, the thread linking the two is the admiration for their revered minister or actor.
Consider this: Say you had to work on a task that required a good measure of focus and skill. Would you have a greater chance of succeeding if you had an audience cheering you on? Or if the same audience repeatedly cautioned you about the risks of failure?
I think I know your answer. Similarly, words and actions of people have subconscious effects on us. More so if we share some commonality with them. A hostile crowd in a foreign playground might not affect us half as much as a hostile crowd on our home ground.
So, what can we do to intervene? While not easy, one can sometimes spot people in one’s circles who are going through a challenging phase. Even if they don’t directly tell us. We could then try reach out to them or increase the support ecosystem for them. To try and lighten the burden or ease off the scales, which might be at dangerous levels. Or we could refer or bring to them the professional support needed.
Here’s an earlier post, Death and the Maiden, where I shared some variables that might compel someone to cause self-harm.
And here’s a very well thought out post you must check out. It’s by The Depression Project, about telling signs.
Thoughts and ideas welcome!