Friday, September 5, 2014

A legal approach to addressing suicides

Even as Sikkim awaits a civil society response to the worry of growing suicides, the State Legal Services Authority has begun an effort to extend counsel and intervention to a society at risk…

An initiative has finally been made to address the suicide crisis in the state and this effort comes from unexpected quarters. Armed with a squad of paralegal volunteers already in place at the grassroots level, the Sikkim State Legal Services Authority has stepped up for a cause that has failed to draw any earnest takers so far. Even as the state ranked in the top three in terms of suicide rates in the country for the past many years, there have not been any sincere or consistent attempts to take this cause up.
While suicide is treated as a crime in the country, it is interesting to have a body like SSLSA taking up the issue from a completely different angle. As stated, there have not been any substantial efforts made towards addressing this issue by government or non-government agencies in the state so far and together with the lack of research on the subject, the only way open for suicide prevention remains awareness and sensitization of the masses.
To start with, SSLSA teamed up with the Health Department to train trainers who would then spread awareness on suicide prevention among the masses and train others in the subject as well. The first such training was held on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention from 25-27 August. 42 participants attended the training programme which had Psychiatrists Dr. CS Sharma and Dr. CL Pradhan, Psychologist Nancy Palmu Chankapa and Sociologist Chungchung Bhutia as resource persons.
Apart from the theoretical aspect of suicide prevention, the training also delved into data collection and research. The three-day long programme saw exchange of ideas and sharing of experiences by para-legal volunteers many of whom are spread across rural areas of the state.
SSLSA is also looking at incorporating suicide prevention topics in the 'Lessons in Law' chapter that it plans to include in school books in Sikkim.
The Health Department has also sprung into action and plans to develop a crisis centre which will be responsible for the hotline. It may be recalled that on 01 July Justice SP Wangdi of the High Court of Sikkim had directed the Department of Healthcare and Family Welfare to come up with concrete proposals to tackle the high rate of suicides in Sikkim.
“Since the state government has no provision for hiring staff for such a centre we are looking at getting a reputed NGO to run the 24X7 Suicide Prevention and Crises Centre with Telephone Hotlines in Gangtok”, informs Dr KJ Topgay. The department has already called for proposals from reputed NGOs/Voluntary Organisations for this purpose.
On World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, the department is organising a sensitization and awareness programme for media persons of the state, he informs. “We have conducted such awareness programmes at Sichey, Mangan and will continue to hold such programmes in other areas as well. We also plan to organize a training for doctors of STNM hospital soon”, adds Dr Topgay. Other plans include forming survivor groups and setting up crisis centres in other parts of the state as well.

Many lives have been lost to suicide because depression is triggered by several negative life experiences and the person does not receive treatment – or does not receive effective treatment for the depression. You are not depressed when you feel sad for a day or two; you are depressed when you experience a prolonged period of sadness that interferes with your ability to function. Depression occurs because of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. It is an illness. And it is highly treatable.”
- Dr. CS SHARMA, HoD, Psychiatry, STNM Hospital

“In order to tackle severe depression and eventual death from depression-induced suicide, we need to investigate the underlying issues of depression, and that will be done not only in the light of socio-economical situation of a society but also issues related to anthropology. Cultural context is one of the determinants that regulates a person’s mood and mind. However, anthropological factors for causation of suicide are still unclear.”
- Dr CL PRADHAN, Neuropsychiatrist, STNM Hospital

“Counseling is a secret dialogue between the client and therapist where the therapist helps the client to identify problems, make decisions and give them confidence to put the decisions into practice.”
- NANCY PALMU CHANKAPA, Psychologist, STNM Hospital

Efforts to prevent suicide have been celebrated on World Suicide Prevention Day – September 10th – each year since 2003. In 2014, the theme of World Suicide Prevention Day is 'Suicide Prevention: One World Connected.' The theme reflects the fact that connections are important at several levels if we are to combat suicide.
Connectedness is crucial to individuals who may be vulnerable to suicide. Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it. Reaching out to those who have become disconnected from others and offering them support and friendship may be a life-saving act.
World Suicide Prevention Day in 2014 is significant because it marks the release by the WHO of the World Suicide Report (WSR). The report follows the adoption of the Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 by the World Health Assembly, which commits all 194 member states to reducing their suicide rates by 10% by 2020.
Be part of the connectedness of World Suicide Prevention Day this year. On September 10th, join with others around the globe who are working towards the common goal of preventing suicide. Together, we can shine a spotlight on this major public health problem and ensure that it receives the policy attention that it warrants.

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