Recently, many leading newspapers and channels reported that according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, in 2014, Kota witnessed a 61 per cent rise in suicide cases. They also stated that NCRB has classified 18 ‘reasons’ for the suicides. Corroborating common perception, the top reasons were cited as academic failures, disappointments in romantic relationships and spats with family members.

While I have no reasonto doubt the accuracy of the mathematical computations in the report, I do have some serious misgivings about the conclusions drawn by the Bureau about the causes of individual suicide cases.

Firstly, no serious finding can be validated without a clear statement as to how it was reached. Newsreports need to address this issue and readers need to ask this question. So how did NCRB ascertain that X committed suicide because of a, b or c reason? Did all the victims leave clear reasons for their drastic step in suicide notes? If not, was there a thorough investigation of each one of those 100 cases? What sources did the Bureau use? What questions did they ask the victims ’families and friends? Were the reports completely reliable?

I ask these questions because rarely can anyone know the exact reason that causes a person to end his, or her, life. Suicide is an extreme step and the motivation that drives one to it is complex, to say the least. Most times, the victims themselves probably don’t understand their relentless desire to let go of life. Even if they do, it would be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to accurately describe the array of factors that go into that fatal decision in a suicide note. Unfortunately, much like the mystery of the taste of cyanide, the causal factors behind an individual suicide case is buried with the deceased.

Mental health professionals and researchers have studied suicide for years. Based on detailed case histories put together from information provided by those who had attempted suicide, family members and friends left behind by suicide victims, mental health practitioners who the deceased may have been seeing, and suicide notes, they have been able to deduce a number of factors contributing to suicide. What needs to be emphasized here is that there are factors that make one vulnerable to suicidal thoughts and behaviour. These factors are not isolated events that occur right before suicide but may be rooted in an individual’s psychological make-up since years before the incident, or even from birth (genetics has a role in suicide too). They may range from childhood abuse and neglect to loneliness in adulthood. Mental illness is the most prominent factor in suicide.

To summarize, it is clear from mental health research that no one decides to end their life because of one solitary event. A stressful event may push an already disturbed person “over the edge”, but in no way can it be called the ‘reason for suicide’. To say that it is, is not only misleading but wrong. The only information that that provides is the long suffering person’s ‘last straw’. To reduce his/her suffering to that one event in this way only serves to belittle the victim and push blame that is often unwarranted to the people left behind.

We as lay people too need to be more sensitive about the way we inquire after suicide survivors and how we talk about the victims. Saying that a boy slit his wrist ‘because his girlfriend left him’, that a student jumped off the top-most floor ‘because she failed her exams’, or that a woman killed herself ‘because she was fed up of her husband’ causes other people to make sweeping judgments about the deceased and those close to them. Statements such as these are what contribute to the stigma behind suicide. It makes people who attempt suicide appear weak and petty. If we don’t change the way we talk about suicide, people struggling with thoughts of suicide will always hesitate to seek help. And the suicide rate will continue to escalate.