World Suicide Prevention Day 2018: Kabir Bedi opens up on tragedy of losing his 25-year-old son to suicide

Coinciding with World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10) Kabir Bedi opens up to Dinesh Raheja about coming to terms with his son Siddharth’s suicide, aged 25

No matter how bad it looked, I reasoned with Siddharth, suicide was not the answer, he shouldn’t give up believing in a better future. We were all there for him.

Suicide is a tragedy when it happens in the family, or close to home. Even with the passage of time, the scars remain forever. Most people don’t want to talk about it: the wound is too personal and painful. Yes, we all lament the mass suicide of farmers as a national disgrace. But it’s distant disaster, we don’t feel the pain of each extinguished life personally. Talking about suicide of the near and dear feels awkward. It’s hard to condemn it, and it’s harder to justify it. And it’s a social taboo. So it’s easier not to talk about it. But silence benefits nobody.

People commit suicide for many reasons: real desperation, imagined desperation, extreme depression or mental imbalance, and, in some cases, it’s a carefully considered decision. Be that as it may, I can only speak of what I experienced when my son Siddharth committed suicide at the age of 25. He had graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, with honours in Information Technology, just as the information age was dawning in 1994. The best opportunities in the world awaited him. But, within two years, while doing his Masters at Chapel Hill in the University of North Carolina, something went terribly wrong. Depression was the first diagnosis, but it turned out to be far worse: schizophrenia.

He came to live with me in Los Angeles, where we tried to have him treated. Today the ‘treatments’ are far better. At the time, the medicines he was given made him feel groggy and dull, and he resisted taking them. What was I to do? It was a constant struggle to keep him medicated. Schizophrenia is a constantly changing state. Siddharth had times of great clarity, and times when I didn’t know who I was talking to. After a year, his frustrations came to a boil. He had researched his ailment on the internet and was dismayed by the probabilities of life ahead of him. I tried my best to give him all the hope possible. It didn’t work. He slipped into greater withdrawal and depression.

One day, during a period of clarity, he told me he was thinking of suicide. It was a shock, but I saw it as a cry for help. I tried to show him how much we cared, how medical science was advancing rapidly, how the future could be very different from what he imagined. ‘But what do I do all day?’’ Siddharth asked calmly. ‘I can’t taste food, TV makes no sense, I can’t do any job, movies and books are meaningless.’ No matter how bad it looked, I reasoned with him, suicide was not the answer, he shouldn’t give up believing in a better future. We were all there for him. Protima, his mother, and Pooja, his sister, would be coming to see him soon. Nikki, my wife, and Adam, my son, all cared for him. He kept talking suicide, and I kept trying to change his mind.

When I learnt he had emailed his best friend in India bidding him farewell, I knew I had to act fast. I called in the LA Suicide Prevention Squad. They ‘negotiated’ with him, and came out seeming optimistic. But he fooled them. A few days later he committed suicide in the early hours of the morning in his upstairs room, leaving behind a letter saying he was going to ‘the other side’. It was a decision he had lived with for a long time before taking the fatal plunge. My grief was overwhelming.

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