Fighting the silent epidemic called suicide

Losing 34-year-old actor Sushant Singh Rajput allegedly to suicide recently was both disturbing and upsetting for many. It once again brought forth numerous discussions around pain suicide can wreck on a person and those around them.

Self-harm or suicide is amongst one of the most stigmatised topics in India; however, one must realise that it is very much a part of the shadow pandemic looming over the country and the globe at large. Experts say that India is teetering at the edge of a mental health epidemic. According to a study by Indian Psychiatry Association, more than 50% Indians have reported mental health issues since the Covid-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) had named India as a suicide capital of Southeast Asia. Globally, every 40 seconds –and in India, every 4 minutes — a person dies by committing suicide. Experts say that for each person who dies by suicide more than 20 others attempt suicide and more than 100 people think about attempting it. Sadly, not many robust techniques or avenues are provided that can help a person overcome the cloud of negativity that surrounds their mind and drives them to such action.

The extent of hopelessness, sadness and loneliness that drives one to take such action is unimaginable. Typically solutions like counseling and helplines have been not effective in combating this serious issue. In this article we explore how the age-old wisdom of yoga and meditation can help.

Yoga, an ancient Indian tradition dating back more than 5,000 years, is increasingly being explored as solutions for mental health problems like stress, anxiety, depression and PTSD, etc. Hundreds of research studies in several countries have studied the efficacy of yoga and meditation techniques. Research shows these techniques can change neurophysiology to gene expression in our body.

Art of Living has been at the forefront of offering life transformational yogic techniques like Sudarshan Kriya to millions across the globe. These techniques have helped people reduce stress, improve quality of life and health. We share two case studies here where these techniques have played a role in mitigating the problem of self-harm.

Kota, a city located in the northern Indian, is wellknown for being India’s biggest educational hub for coaching institutes for engineering and medical entrance exams. Over 150,000 students from all over the country flock every year towards the city for preparation of various exams such as IIT-JEE, NEETUG, AIIMS, etc. Students live there for 2-3 years and prepare for the exams. In the past few years, reports of students committing suicide in the city have increased. In 2016, many national and local news media covered the story of suicidal cases in Kota and gave it a new name “The Killer City” or “Suicide Capital of India” due huge rise in suicide cases. In order to improve the mental health and resilience of students in Kota, The Art of Living launched a campaign called Spreading Smiles. The campaign started in the third quarter of 2016 and culminated in March of 2017. The campaign had a lot of support from the Kota district administration. Various stakeholders like coaching institutes, hostel association as well as media also extended support in their capacity .In a short span of 8 months, more than 80,000 students were positively impacted by the campaign. They were taught Sudarshan Kriya and meditation. As a result of the campaign, there was a 70 % decrease in student suicides in Kota, specifically due to failure in exams. The figures are taken from India’s National Crime Records Bureau’s annual ADSI report.

These techniques not only work on adults but on teens as well. In another example, Sudarshan Kriya was offered at a high school in the United States which had several suicide clusters. The intervention improved resilience, emotional health and decreased stress. It also improved focus, sleep and increased happiness and self-confidence. Consistently over 75% of students used the techniques and practices they learnt outside of class. Before Sudarshan Kriya was offered, the school had seen eight deaths from suicide and after Kriya , there was only one suicide in five years.

Suicide is the third largest cause of death amongst 15-29-year-olds. Currently the onus of helping a person with suicide ideation is on themselves. Counselling and helplines don’t always work, and it’s difficult to control the mind with the mind — ask anyone who has tried to go to sleep at night when they are worried about something and the thoughts just keep bombarding their minds.

The act of taking one’s life is an extreme measure and we all have responsibility to help those who need support to improve mental health. Yogic practices increase internal strength and resilience to withstand ups and downs in life. They can be a potent solution to overcome the silent epidemic of suicide.

The writer is Working Director, Standing Research Committee, Indian Yoga Association.

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