The chaos and uncertainty triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic as well as the stringent lockdown imposed to contain its spread have affected lives and livelihoods in India. Even though the unlocking has been in progress for the past two months, people are struggling to adapt themselves to the new normal. Financial distress and social isolation have pushed many of them to the brink or beyond. Ludhiana, Punjab’s industrial hub, was hit hard by the prolonged closure of factories. The trauma caused by factors such as loss of jobs and business reversals is reflected in the alarming rise in the number of suicides. One Ludhiana resident, on an average, took the extreme step every day during the four-month period from April 1 to July 31. The rate was one suicide in two days during the preceding three months.
The figures for Kolkata, the ‘City of Joy’, are no less disturbing. Between April and June, at least 113 cases of suicide were reported, more than double the number for the corresponding period in 2019 (55) and 2018 (49). According to data compiled by a group of researchers, suicide was the leading cause of over 300 lockdown-related deaths that occurred in the country from March 19 to May 2.
It was the suicide by film actor Sushant Singh Rajput that turned the spotlight on much-ignored mental health issues. However, the incessant focus on the case itself — the sordid blame game, the conspiracy theories — has brought things back to square one. The efficacy of the helplines being run by the authorities as well as NGOs remains debatable. Suicides by Covid-positive patients or their family members underline the paranoia and stigma that continue to be associated with the disease. It’s imperative to promptly reach out to a person showing signs of depression. The role of family and friends in providing succour can’t be overestimated. Financial and emotional support in these trying times can reduce cases of people taking an irreversible step. The Central and state governments, on their part, ought to ensure that the needy are not deprived of the benefits of relief and rehabilitation schemes.