29 May - 5 June 2015 #760

This is not how your story should end

Studies show there is a rise in suicide in communities affected by natural disasters
Anjana Rajbhandary

Photo: Kunda Dixit

On Monday morning, many people woke up to the sad news of the death of former Supreme Court Justice Bharat Raj Upreti. The loss of a loved one is not easy, especially if it is a suicide.  

The reasons are not yet known, it will be speculated and assumed but never quite confirmed. We may never know the real reason, but the personal tragedy at a time of national tragedy adds a poignancy to the mourning. It also brings forward the importance of awareness and prevention of suicide. 

“He may have needed help but perhaps could not reach out,” a close friend of Upreti told me. The lawyer was widely admired for his strong will, self confidence and the quality of always being there for others. “A person lives in his mind and there may have been other issues. Probably the earthquake triggered what was already going on,” the friend said.

Internationally, mental health causes seem to be the reason behind about 90 per cent suicides, and depression has been the biggest risk factor. People who experience such disasters are vulnerable, sometimes the incident takes time to sink in. Such post effects of earthquakes can have a stronger impact on individuals who already had mental health illness to start with. Many studies show victims and survivors of natural disasters like floods, earthquakes and hurricanes increases post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression that may lead to suicidal thinking. 

At first there is initial shock and once people start to resettle back to their old lives, reality hits them showing how much things have changed and how much still needs to be done. It is not easy. Figures also show that the rate of suicides may increase till a year after a natural disaster because of the stress of loans and rebuilding lives.

Disruption of social circles and the loss of loved ones may lead to depression and feeling of hopelessness, which are high risks for suicide. Nepali culture looks down upon mental health illness, stereotypes, and stigmatises it. Many do not ask for help because of a judgmental society. The families of those affected get attacked and scrutinised, and society doesn’t make it easier and this thinking needs to change. 

In an increasingly consumer-driven urban setting of Kathmandu, we have to remind ourselves to look to others and pay attention to people around us. Do we acknowledge or ignore those who need help? Strong social support is the strongest shielding factor against suicide, and this becomes especially important after natural disasters with great loss of life. There needs to be plans for immediate, medium and long-term suicide prevention.

It is important to be empathetic and non-judgmental towards individuals with mental health illness. With awareness, knowledge, treatment and support, most people diagnosed with mental health illness are able to live long healthy lives.

It is necessary to pay attention to oneself and if one feels the need for support, just ask. Also, if you feel someone in your life is struggling, talk to them- don’t think this may just be a phase that will pass because it may not. Losing people, for any reason, is hard: we cannot replace people and we cannot replace memories. But, with awareness and knowledge we can pay attention to ourselves and others, and be there for each other while preventing suicides.  If you have been feeling hopeless and sad, and have had those thoughts, take this as a sign to not give up. Get help. There are people around you who love you and need you. Don’t end your story, because you matter.


Read also:

End pain not lives, Anjana Rajbhandary

Suicide rates are rising, Aart Basnyat

Its all in the mind, Matt Miller

Addressing posttraumatic stress, Anjana Rajbhandary

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