Last year when a much-loved film actor took the drastic step of ending his life, I had written about this issue, albeit a little distantly. This time the tragedy is closer to home. Three days ago, I similarly lost someone; someone who I knew only professionally but had come to respect greatly in my interactions with him over the last year and a half. I remember him as a cheerful, friendly and extremely helpful colleague at the Bar. I had the privilege of learning a lot from him, and I’m sure many other people will second me on that. And yet, despite all my interactions, I had not an iota of suspicion that despair had created a home in his heart. You would be right in saying that the reason for that could be the limited nature of my interactions with him. It could be that. But the more likely reason is that people who end up in such situations either themselves don’t know how they are feeling until it is too late or can hide their genuine feelings effectively from people close to them. I find both these situations troubling and feel that it’s time we addressed them so that we never have to face such a loss again.
Let’s start with the second situation – when people can hide their genuine feelings of despair from their loved ones. Why would anyone do that, you may ask? Why would anyone not want to share how they truly felt with the people they love? Well, as far as men are concerned, they have been conditioned to think of themselves as the pillars of strength for their families. We expect men to remain strong and unflinching in the face of adversity. But first I ask the men, isn’t this sort of thinking creating an undue burden on you that has become too overwhelming? The reason we have created familial units is so that we share our burdens and responsibilities. It doesn’t seem fair that the man of the family is saddled with the hard part. I say this to men, it’s time you started sharing more and allowed other people in your families and friends to pick up the slack. I say the same to traditional Indian families; we all must pick up the load occasionally because as we have seen in the last year, everything that was normal and predictable has changed and the only thing we can do is to adapt to these unpredictable times. This might mean allowing the man to take the back seat sometimes. There is nothing wrong with that, and this is the only way we can ensure that the men in our lives remain hopeful and happy.
As far as women are concerned, we have been historically cast as the weaker sex. We often hesitate to tell people around us about our true feelings for the fear of being told that we are oversensitive or have a low EQ (Emotional Quotient) or are just trying to gain attention. We don’t want to be thought of as weak or emotional or unprofessional, therefore we try to project strength, especially in professional settings where the cards are often stacked against us. But all this suppression of feelings can have repercussions, sometimes drastic ones. It needs to be said – you may not understand how a woman in your family, friend circle or office is feeling, but that does not mean you should devalue it. You may find these emotions fanciful or trivial, but if they are not addressed at the right time and in the right way, they can lead to unfortunate circumstances. I say this to all the women out there, your feelings are real; no one can devalue or trivialize them unless you allow it. We often share our thoughts and feelings only with other women because we think they will understand, but that is not enough. The men in your lives need to be told too; by not telling them you are not being fair to them either. At the risk of not being taken seriously, be open about how you feel – that is the only solution.
Now let’s talk about the first situation – when people don’t know how they are feeling until it is too late. I have said this before and I will say it again – the connection between depression (or other mental illnesses) and suicides is nebulous. Some people remain depressed over long periods, living with the feeling that their life is over and yet they do nothing to end it. Others don’t seem depressed at all (or they may be and don’t know it yet), look cheerful, but the next thing you hear is this sad news about them. Medical science says poor mental health increases the incidence of suicides, but suicides can happen without there being any apparent mental health issues. It is these cases – where we thought everything was fine – that leave us completely shocked and force us to question what we may have missed. Families and friends of the deceased are only left with the guilt of knowing that had they known how the deceased was feeling, they would have helped them. But this, here, is the hardest part – how do you know what someone is thinking or how they are feeling until and unless they decide to share it with you?
I did some reading on this issue and here are some ideas that can be implemented to prevent situations such as suicides –
Give time to your loved ones. Difficult conversations which involve complicated feelings are not the subject of dinner-table talk. It takes courage to open up about your feelings, and on the listener’s part, it requires patience and time. Carve out time for your loved ones when they can come to you and express how they feel in an unhurried manner. Made them feel heard and understood, their feelings acknowledged; make sure you convey your continued availability and support to help them overcome the adversity they are facing.
Create a non-judgmental space. This one is especially true if you have children. Your children are going to make a lot of mistakes – the only thing that is going to stop those mistakes from becoming life-altering catastrophes is if you create a safe space where your children can come and tell you about their mistakes without the fear of repercussions. Of course, as a parent it is your right to discipline your child in the manner you think fit, but not to drive them to take drastic steps. There is a time for discipline and there is a time for support – make sure you convey the difference to your child and your other loved ones.
Convey your expectations. We keep talking about communication as being the bedrock of a good relationship but communication should not be restricted to just talking about the sort of day you had or where you want to go for your next vacation. You must convey your day-to-day expectations to the people around you so that you don’t get disappointed when such expectations are not met. Not just that – discuss and fine-tune these expectations with the people against whom you hold them. Expectations tend to become onerous if they are not discussed and adjusted. Inability to meet expectations can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem, which can lead to unfortunate circumstances. This is true for all sorts of relationships – between spouses, between parents and children, with in-laws and in professional settings, between the boss and subordinates. It is better to have everyone on the same page rather than feel guilt at a later stage for not having discussed this openly.
So far I have talked about what you can do to make sure that the people in your lives feel comfortable talking about their thoughts and feelings. But what if you want to help yourself? How can you identify your feelings so that you can ask for help before it’s too late?
Be honest with yourself. The one person you can and ought to be 100% honest with is yourself. If you can’t acknowledge your true feelings to yourself, then take it is as a sign that there is something wrong. I have developed this habit that helps me explore my feelings and innermost thoughts. I stand in front of the mirror every night and ask myself how I felt during the day and how I am feeling right now. There are days when things look good and I go to sleep contented. But there are also days when I realise I am low or uninspired or just plain depressed. These feelings need to be acknowledged, however many people put up a brave face not just for the world but for themselves as well. Don’t do that. Don’t stifle feelings of sadness, failure, or despair and don’t judge yourself for having them. This is the first step on the road to self-preservation.
Think of a game plan. Once you have been honest with yourself and identified how you are feeling, it’s time to strategize. Ask yourself some important questions. Can I figure out whatever is troubling me on my own or do I need outside intervention? If I take outside help, is it enough if I approach my friends and family or do I need to seek professional help? Create a game plan for yourself about how you will deal with your problems and feelings. Once the strategy is in place, start implementing it step-by-step either yourself or with outside help. This is the second step on the road to self-preservation.
Last, but not least, have faith. I neither believe in any religion nor do I believe in there being a superpower out there. But do carry a lot faith in my heart; faith in my family, friends and other loved ones. I have faith that whenever I will ask for help, most of my loved ones will willingly reach out their hands to help me. There is not even a shadow of a doubt in my mind about this. During some tough times, I have acknowledged to my family that I am scared to go down the path my feelings are taking me. My family has always swooped in to show me the right path. Time and again, I have asked that I be protected from my dark thoughts and protection has always come my way. We all have families and friends like that but mostly, we just hesitate to ask for help. I’m telling you don’t hesitate in telling someone that you are having harmful thoughts and you need help in overcoming them. If you ask for it, help will always come your way. I firmly believe that.
One practical tip that can help that I have even implemented with some of my friends is to make a list of three people who you can trust with your life. Promise yourself (and promise them too) that before taking any drastic steps towards ending your life, you will at least once call all three people on the list and speak to them. Give them this opportunity to change your mind and to change the course of your life. Maybe that one phone call will make all the difference. Make the list today and ask your loved ones to make it too – it can save your life and theirs as well.
I know this is an uncomfortable topic to read about, but any of us can be at the receiving end of such unfortunate news. Suicides happen in all kinds of families, for all kinds of reasons. The only thing we can do is to prevent as many as we can – talking about them is the first step.
As always, I am on the other end of this post if you ever need someone to talk to. Whatever you say will remain strictly between us if that’s what you want. Be safe and be happy!
Note : I’m not a Doctor or a Trained Psychologist or Therapist—all views expressed above are my own and have been gleaned from my personal experience and extensive reading. You MUST seek professional help if you experience symptoms of depression or have suicidal thoughts.