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Suicide and mental health: The need to break Nagaland’s silence

By Our Correspondent Updated: Sep 09, 2018 10:51 pm

Our Correspondent

Kohima, Sep. 9 (EMN):Suicide is a problem that arises from the psychological condition of depression caused by relationship issues, or financial problems; or from shame and deep sense of guilt; or substance abuse; lack of attention, parental rejection; or lack of self worth.

According to a senior medical officer at the State Metal Health Institute in Kohima, Dr. Viketoulie Pienyü, depression could be due to stated psychological issues. In suicide cases among states, Nagaland is ranked the second lowest in the country, with the suicide rate 0.9% against the national average of 10.8%, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India 2015,’ which was released in December 2016.

However, it was also reported that Nagaland was among the top five states / Union Territories that witnessed a significant increase in suicide in 2015, unlike the previous years.

A comparative statement of UD (unnatural death) cases registered in the state provided by the Crime branch of the state’s police headquarters shows that 25 cases were registered during 2016; 23 during 2017, and 10 cases in the current year till August 31.

Out of the 58 cases that were registered since 2016, it was found that 32 were from Dimapur district alone.

Serendip Guardians is an NGO working  in the field of mental health and works for prevention of suicides in Nagaland. In collaboration with like-minded individuals, the NGO is observing ‘World Suicide Prevention Day’ on September 10 with the theme ‘Coming Together for Suicide Prevention’ at Father’s House Church in Chumukedima.

Talking to Eastern Mirror, the director of Serendip Guardians, Rini Ghose, was of the view that although Nagaland was ranked second lowest, the fact remains that many suicides go unreported and undocumented.

Due to stigma and taboo associate with suicide, she said, ‘We choose not to report such cases because in Naga society each tribe governed by cultural beliefs, rituals and customs categorise death as natural and unnatural.’

With each tribe having terms for what is referred to as unnatural death, Ghose said suicide, death during child birth, drowning and many others, depending on the tribes, fall into the category of unnatural death.

“Now, there are taboos associated with these kinds of death where we don’t give due diligence like what we give to the so-called natural death. It not just dehumanises the person who died but also the family of the departed,” said Ghose.

“Apart from the many myths associated with suicide, it is also considered an act of cowardice, weakness, generational sins and many more.”

Dr. Pienyü pointed out that suicide was not well-accepted by the society and the affected family must have to struggle with the stigma for the rest of their lives. “This probably explains why suicide is so less in the Naga society,” he added.

He was of the view that suicide was not so common in the state if compared to other societies,  due to a strong buffer system (support of family and the community). Nonetheless, he said most of the suicides are more prevalent and common among young people due to depression caused by failure in love, parental abuse, failure in exams, impulsivity and attention-seeking behavior.

Education through various forums like schools, radio, and TV talks will go a long way in creating awareness about suicide, Dr. Pienyü asserted.

Further, Ghose observed there to be a low level of awareness about mental health, and said, “Our understanding of mental health is of people with severe mental illness who roam on the streets or are in the mental hospitals” while issues like depression, anxiety, stress, trauma and many more are not even regarded as mental health issues. Adding to the stigma and lack of awareness, she said it becomes much easier for people to say ‘my brother/sister/child is possessed by some supernatural beings’ than to acknowledge that the person has mental health problems and needs professional help.

She asserted that it was time for people start talking about it rather than hushing it up, and to accept the fact ‘mental health issues are real, depression is real’ and give mental health issues due importance, and to accept professional help.

Unless people start accepting the reality of mental illness and do away with the stigma and taboo and create safe spaces for people to talk about their mental health related problems, she said those who suffer will continue to suffer in silence.

Also, Ghose suggested re-examining the educational system; it measures excellence through marks scored in examinations, which puts young students through much pressure to excel. She suggested a suicide-prevention helpline for Nagaland, and mental health cells in all hospitals and health centres in addition to the few existing ones; and with them, professionals who offer support and care.

By Our Correspondent Updated: Sep 09, 2018 10:51:29 pm