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In a hectic city, a little care can still save lives

To help desperate citizens change their mind and not jump in front of running trains, the Metro has launched an empathically worded social media campaign called #NeverGiveUp.

delhi Updated: Aug 12, 2019 15:11 IST
Shivani Singh
Shivani Singh
New Delhi
Delhi Metro officials say that the frontline staff and security personnel have been asked to look out for passengers who appear visibly distressed.
Delhi Metro officials say that the frontline staff and security personnel have been asked to look out for passengers who appear visibly distressed.(Amal KS/HT PHOTO)
         

There is a lot driving the Delhi Metro’s reputation as the city’s transport lifeline, and the last thing it wants is to become a destination for committing suicides. To help desperate citizens change their mind and not jump in front of running trains, the Metro has launched an empathically worded social media campaign called #NeverGiveUp.

Through its Twitter handle @OfficialDMRC, which has 23,000 followers, Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) since April this year has been routinely posting messages to reach out to those in need of help. Sample some recent tweets:

“Speak up, reach out!! You are not alone”

“Pause and remember. There is always someone to hear you out. So let’s talk”

“There is hope. There is help”

“Let’s reach out to people who need a hand over their shoulder”

It is impossible to make any city suicide proof as most of such cases happen in private spaces. However, any such attempt in a public place provides an opportunity for last-minute intervention, points out a paper by the UK government’s Public Health England. The first response, it says, is much more likely to come from a passing stranger than from a family member or professional caregiver. It is, therefore, important to equip people with the skills and confidence required to intervene if they spot someone in distress, the paper recommends.

Delhi Metro officials say that the frontline staff and security personnel have been asked to look out for passengers who appear visibly distressed. Those monitoring CCTVs have been asked to spot passengers who are not boarding trains or have been walking too close to the tracks, and then trained personnel provide primary counselling before returning them to their families.

Train drivers have been told to be more alert. All new stations built on Pink and Magenta lines, and some older crowded ones, have platform screen doors. This has also helped in crowd management.

Timely intervention does help.

In the first six months of this year, 37 suicide attempts were made in the Metro premises, 11 persons died, 14 were hospitalised, and 12 lives were saved, thanks to alert security personnel, metro staff and passengers.

Last year, 49 suicides were attempted in the Metro, 17 persons died, 13 lives were saved and 19 persons were hospitalised.

Although there are more people killing themselves in private spaces, witnessing a suicide in public or discovering a body has its own psychological consequences. The impact of a public suicide extends far beyond the usual circle of family members, friends and acquaintances. Bystanders, including children, may suffer long-lasting trauma, says the paper by Public Health England.

These incidents also trigger copycat suicides. Till it shut down in 1981 after a stampede, Qutab Minar was notorious for people jumping off this seven-storey medieval tower. Later, Vikas Minar at ITO and the Janakpuri District Centre in west Delhi were locations from where suicides were frequently reported.

Across the world, suicides on mass-transit networks are common. On London’s century-old network, “anti-suicide pits”— the one-meter space below the tracks originally built to prevent platforms from flooding — have saved lives. In the last 10 years, Tokyo has installed blue LEDs in its metro stations to calm down passengers, a move the London Tube is now emulating.

Apart from restricting access to suicide-prone areas, the Delhi Metro’s initiative to look out for people who need help is timely. But such efforts cannot be left to the public utilities alone. At 8.8, Delhi’s suicide rate — number of suicides per 100,000 people as last collated by the National Crime Record Bureau in 2015 — is lower than the national average of 10.6. But, according to the same data set, Delhi still reports five suicides a day. Those pushed to the edge often find other means and spots in the city, or withdraw to a private space to harm themselves.

In a significant step towards recognising suicidal tendencies as a mental health issue, the government has decriminalised attempt to suicide. But prejudice, ignorance, stigma and fear still make the distressed reluctant to seek treatment.

“Any person who suffers from depression or anxiety should recognise these symptoms as a genuine health problem and seek professional help, just like they do for physical illness,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar from the department of psychiatry at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Catching the warning signs is the first step, he says, adding that if individuals are unable to recognise these signs themselves, a family member, friend and even a work colleague can intervene, start a conversation and suggest help.

Knowing that help is available can help the distressed and the desperate change their mind.

First Published: Aug 12, 2019 11:01 IST

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