In 2009, Mumbai was hit by a wave of swine flu. In 2010, the city seems to be reeling under an epidemic of depression with nine suicides reported over the past week.
“Feeling low and lost is like an infectious disease, it spreads fast and the most vulnerable people get caught at the vortex,” said psychiatrist Dr Rajendra Barve.
Mental health experts said the recent spate of suicides signals that society is going through a crisis. “Nine people — from an 11-year-old to a 65-year-old — have chosen to end their lives. This shows that we are living in a crisis-laden, depressed and stressed society,” said Dr Kersi Chavda, president of the Bombay Psychiatric Society.
He added that the fact that most of the people have used the same method — hanging — to commit suicide made it seem like a case of ‘copycat suicides’. “When someone who is depressed and morbid hears about how another person in the same situation has reacted, it tilts him over the edge,” said Dr Chavda.
Dr Anjali Chhabria pointed out that hanging seems to have become the most common way to commit suicide after model Nafisa Joseph hung herself from a ceiling fan in 2004. In the same year, television channels had also shown a minute-by-minute account of the execution of rapist Dhananjoy Chatterjee in Kolkata.
“Research has shown that depression is the second biggest problem in India after heart disease. In teenagers, it is the second cause of death after accidents,” she said.
Experts said that adolescents, 40-somethings, senior citizens and people suffering from chronic physical ailments were most prone to depression. “In children, the symptoms of depression and suicidal tendency may be difficult to detect. Sometimes, it is just a slight change in behaviour or complaints of a constant headache or chest pain,” said Dr Chavda.
Like swine flu, the remedy for depression is also early diagnosis and treatment. “Family physicians should refer patients to a psychiatrists the moment they notice any sign of depression,” said Dr Chhabria.