| TNN | Jun 18, 2020, 09:35 IST

He was always smiling. How can a happy person take such a drastic step?”
“I don’t know why but I am relating with him so much. It’s getting difficult for me.”

“What are the telltale signs of suicide?”
“Is it true that depression can lead to suicide?”
Since the demise of 34-year-old actor Sushant Singh Rajput on June 14, suicide prevention helplines and mental heath counsellors have been inundated with anxious calls and emails. While many of the callers are those under the age of 40 investigating their own tendencies toward anxiety and depression, some are parents worried about the impact of the highly-publicised suicide case on their withdrawn children. “The incident has been a trigger,” said lawyer-cumactivist Kamayani Bali Mahabal, a volunteer at Samaritans Mumbai, an NGO that has seen a 30-40% increase in calls in the last four days.

If morbid questions are fast filling the inbox of Dr Arun John, executive vice-president of Vandrevala Foundation, the non-profit’s suicide prevention helpline has received so many calls that it has had to divert some to helplines in other cities. “Typically, after every celebrity suicide, there is a spike,” said a counsellor at Vandrevala Foundation’s helpline.

Grief, shock and even anger form the base notes of these calls. “Why are the images of the actor’s body being passed around?” some callers ask on NGO Project Mumbai’s city helpline ‘Counsellors on call’. “He looked a certain image of happiness and success and many who related to his outsider status in the industry and thought of him as a fighter, find it hard to digest the news,” said Malvika Fernandes of Project Mumbai, adding that the data sheet of the NGO’s state helpline Samvaad, too has reported a gradual uptick in anxious callers.

For those already struggling with depression, the influx of sensational stories and social media posts on suicide can be a strong trigger, causing an increased risk of what mental health experts call “suicide contagion” or copycat suicide . A way to avert such triggers, says psychiatrist and psychotherapist Syeda Ruksheda, is for media to leave the method or description of the suicide, unexplained. “It prevents ideas or copycat moves among the vulnerable. There’s a reason why in the UK, they call suicides ‘death by misadventure’,” she said.
Compounded by the all-pervasive pandemic-induced ambience of uncertainty, such fears translate into business for private counselling centres. Among those who have reached out to Prafulta Centre for Psychological Wellness for help are also spouses and parents worried about withdrawn behaviour of their loved ones.
A side-effect of these fraught times is that volunteers and counsellors brace themselves for emotional overtime. “At such times, I feel we too need counselling,” said a counsellor at Vandrevala Foundation—which got nearly 130 calls on Wednesday night which is over three times the standard.
(With inputs from Mohua Das)