Dr Samir Parikh
With the growing recognition of suicides being a major area of concern, especially for the youth and adolescents, it is becoming increasingly important for all of us to assume the responsibility to help work towards ensuring adequate measures for the identification, reporting, assessment, as well as intervention of such incidents. But most importantly, we need to help individuals recognise the need to have a preventive approach in place, which means we all need to be able to recognise the fact that suicides are indeed preventable!
One of the important agencies in this regard would be educational institutions, where the youth of the country are typically concentrated on spending most of their waking hours. And when it comes to adolescents, college campuses inevitably assume a very significant role.
There is no doubt that there is an increase in the education, information, awareness as well as an acceptability of mental illnesses. However, there still seems to be a major gap existing in the actual help seeking behaviour, with individuals being crowed down by hesitations and reluctance to actually be open and talk about their mental health related concerns, fearing being judged, discriminated against, blamed or being stigmatised. Therefore, what is required to begin to fill this gap is the need for a sensitivity in our approach, creating an openness in the environment.
This could be done by simply encouraging compassionate conversations pertaining to mental health, wherein individuals are able to overcome their fears and hesitations in talking about mental health, and so that people could be encouraged to seek out the support of others, and be willing to reach out to a mental health expert for professional help and interventions.
Schools and colleges have enormous opportunities to bring about a change in the future of the field of mental health. As they bear the responsibility of fostering the growth and development of the young minds, they should encourage emotional awareness and regulation, adaptive coping and problem-solving skills including conflict resolution, crisis management, as well as emotional regulation and resilience building.
At a cross-sectional level, school and college-wide policies for suicide prevention need to be implemented universally, while establishing a student assistance/helpline program for crises interventions. In fact, such helplines play a crucial role in themselves, ensuring that mental health professionals and help is available and accessible at the time of a crisis. Simply being given a listening ear and a supportive counselling, could give the despairing teenager a ray of hope, to re-evaluate the situation and learn to be equipped with better coping mechanisms to deal with the stressors and challenges in life.
Another helpful means available to work towards such a cause of suicide prevention is the optimum utilisation of social media platforms, to increase accessibility especially amongst the youth.
Despite the growing awareness and realisation, there still remains a wide gap to be filled in to ensure adequate support and services for all. Liaisons between public and private sectors is the best way forward to ensure maximum outreach. Furthermore, we all individually need to assume responsibility for spreading awareness about accessibility as well as referrals to appropriate professional help of counsellors and psychiatrists. Such universal accountability is essential to help build individuals’ resilience and capacities for self-help, while increasing community awareness and responsible reporting by the media.
At the same time, we need to promote an adequate training and empowerment of parents, teachers, social workers, staff and all those first-line workers actively engaging with children and adolescents, to be able to have the earliest identification as well as timely interventions for the young minds who shall form the future of our country.
Dr Parikh is Director and HOD, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare