Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (7), p. 3
Like many other parts of the world, young people on the Indian subcontinent between the ages of 20 and 30 years appear to be most vulnerable group. In Sri Lanka about a quarter of suicides are by people under the age of 30 years, with similar rates in India. Studies from Pakistan show that between 50% and 82% of suicide deaths are from the under-30 age group.
They revived Ranjeeth at the hospital, but he was pronounced brain-dead. Sunethra could not believe what had happened and refused to have her son taken off life support; he died after a week, while still on life support.
While she grieved for her son, Sunethra felt, at the same time, overwhelming shame that her son had taken his own life. She was reluctant to invite anyone from her cultural community to a funeral, because they might discover that Ranjeeth had died by suicide. Normally, the cultural association would be contacted and they would invite the community at large.
When it became clear that members of the extended networks were hearing the family’s story through the grapevine anyway, Sunethra relented. She organized a funeral, inviting just 10 or so of the community’s families to attend. Ranjeeth’s close friends were also there, to join his mother in her grief. There were the expected disapproving whispers from community members: how could someone possibly do this to his parents; how selﬁsh he was, thinking his problems were bigger than everyone else’s; how he had committed a sin that God would not forgive.
When Ranjeeth was on life support, Kamala had ﬂown out East to be with Sunethra and had brought educational materials on depression and suicide from the mental health agency in BC where she worked. she worked. Sunethra had read the materials from cover to cover. Though she still wrestled with the pervasive cultural stigma, her awareness had shifted.
In the weeks after the funeral, members of the community, who had in many cases made some of the hurtful comments about Ranjeeth killing himself, came quietly to Kamala to ask for more information, so that they too could learn more about mental illness. They wanted to ensure that their sons and daughters didn’t have to deal with the pain and suffering felt by Ranjeeth.
Sunethra now understands that her son had depression, which made it easy for him to contemplate suicide. Like family members across all cultures who have lost someone to suicide and think of events in hindsight, Sunethra daily confronts the thought that her son’s death could have been prevented if only she had seen the warning signs. But she didn’t know what the warning signs were or what to do even if she had recognized them.
Sunethra is currently in therapy to help protect her own mental health in the face of all of her losses. And she, with her friend Kamala’s support, is learning more about depression and suicide prevention in her community. Kamala told her friend that she shouldn’t see the death of her son as different from the death of her husband.
They were both brought about by illness; neither was due to moral failings or character ﬂaws. In her own way, Sunethra has started to become an activist for the cause of mental illness—proving that in adversity and tragedy, there is opportunity and hope.
See Khan, M.M. (2002). Suicide on the Indian Subcontinent. Crisis, 23(3), 104-107