With Suicide Prevention Day around the corner, the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry launched India’s first 24/7 suicide helpline number KIRAN (1800-599-0019). This initiative has been the good news 22-year-old Mental health advocate and social activist, Raashi Thaakran was waiting for. Thakran had been struggling for a year for a centralised 24/7 helpline number. However, the fact that it took a pandemic and a Bollywood actor to die for the government to start a helpline number hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Thakran lost her 18-year-old brother in Jan, 2019, to suicide. Since then, she has been running from pillar to post to start a centralised helpline number for suicide prevention that runs 24/7. Last year, she started a petition, which gained a momentum after the suicide of Sushant Singh Rajput. Now, the petition has over 4 lakh signatures.
“I had called around 20 suicide prevention helpline numbers when my brother died out of curiosity. But unfortunately, only three helpline numbers were functional. The rest that are run by NGOs were not in service. Following this, I decided to raise this issue to the central and state government,” said Thakran.
Five months after her brother committed suicide, Thakran started a petition on Change.org addressed to the union health ministry. Within two months, almost two lakh people signed the petition. She also met some government officials who showed interest to launch a centralised helpline number or revamp an already established helpline. But soon, COVID-19 hit India and her efforts were stalled.
In June, when the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput hung himself at his Bandra residence, her petition suddenly gained momentum, garnering more than four lakh signatures. “It is so saddening that despite having over one lakh suicides every year in India, authorities and public needed an actor to die to value the importance of mental health. More importantly, this country didn’t even have a government helpline number for it,” she added.
Prakriti Poddar, mental health expert and MD at Poddar Foundation, said India accounts for 17.8 per cent of all the reported suicide cases. According to the National Crime Bureau, India reported 381 suicides daily for the year 2019. One of the leading causes of suicide is failure in examinations, something that is often cited as the reason by teen suicide victims. Parents and investigative authorities don't usually look further. “It is high time we address the fact that many teens who commit suicide have some sort of underlying mental health problem. Teenagers often have a tough time coping with stress, which is brought on by failures, rejection, and family turmoil. Some of the most common risk factors, include depression, being the victim of sexual abuse, physical abuse, addiction, bullying, marginalisation due to sexual orientation, and a family history of suicide. Parents who suspect suicidal tendencies in their teenagers should talk to them immediately. They should address the anxiety and depression, advise them to take psychiatric help, discourage isolation, and encourage a healthier lifestyle,” she said.
City psychiatrists have welcomed the move of launching a national suicide prevention helpline number, stating it is much needed, as cases of suicide are increasing every year and need to be controlled. “This is a major step towards suicide prevention in the country. But it is saddening that India didn’t even have a national helpline number. And what is even more disturbing is the fact that the authorities had to wait for a virus to hit or an actor to die,” said Dr Sagar Mundada, city psychiatrist.