We should start to listen, acknowledge, and simply asking the question: what can I do to change this reality, so no one is pushed to the edge?
Trigger warning: The following text is about suicide, which may be upsetting to some people.
When the lockdown began, and we were still getting used to working from home, a friend told me they were in a dark space. “Did I ever tell you,” they said, “that I once attempted suicide?”
Journalists are trained to listen, and so I did, to a successful writer who engages with the world readily, whose eyes come alive when they speak, who is always enthusiastic, loves the family dearly, and will go out of their way to get a quality kebab.
I will not give you the details of their attempt, because we’re not supposed to, under World Health Organization’s guidelines on writing about suicide, lest it sets off copycat suicides in people. For many of us, suicide may be restricted to a thought, a habit to lapse into, to fantasise about, each time a situation is too difficult to find a solution to. And therein lies the problem. From the time we are very young, we are told to find solutions. Our society is solution-driven, like somehow if you don’t find one there is something wrong with you. The maths problem, the financial situation, the alcohol addiction — they all needed solutions, often with minimal support and little empathy.
Suicide does not have a single cause — it is not about a girlfriend swindling you of some money, or a friend supplying you with drugs, or even a mental health condition alone. Sure, the careful contemplation of someone with depression, or the impulsive decision of someone with a personality disorder may be the ultimate cause of a person taking their life, but it is really an erosion of resilience over a long period, of not being heard, of a deep sense of loneliness.
Suicide is about you, me, our parents, children, teachers, governments, neighbours, friends, schools and colleges, workplaces, religious and financial institutions — the systems and relationships on which we build our lives. It is not about ‘fixing’ anything. It is about listening, acknowledging, and simply asking the question: what can I do to change this reality, so no one is pushed to the edge? It is not about saying, “Oh but he was always smiling.” Because people — even those who contemplate suicide —have moments where they enjoy life, and many more where they wear masks. It is about offering a friendly ear of course, but equally about acknowledging that each of us is a part of the problem. India, we have been told repeatedly, is a collectivist society, always offering support. It’s time to live out our claims. Then, the ‘solution’ will take care of itself.
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