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Finding Light at the End of the Tunnel

By Aparna Kalbag, PhD, Advisory Panel, SAMHIN, and Anoushka Buddhikot, SAMHIN volunteer

A Suicide Prevention Workshop by South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network held in NJ stressed that suicides can be prevented and preventing suicides is everyone’s business.

Jersey City, NJ:  Suicide results in more deaths than war, homicide and natural disasters combined. Over 42,000 people die by suicide in the U.S. every year. It is difficult to find anyone whose life has not been affected by the suicide of someone they know.  Grief, confusion and guilt often plague those left behind.

On January 22, 2020, SAMHIN (South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network) conducted an educational workshop on suicide prevention. The audience had an opportunity to hear from a panel of psychiatrists and suicide loss survivors. Presenters discussed the extent of the problem of suicide, warning signs and risk factors, and myths and facts about suicide and tips on preventing suicides.

About 70 people from across Central and Northern New Jersey and NYC, majority being from Jersey City, attended the workshop on suicide prevention. The four-hour workshop at Vaibhav Restaurant in Jersey City was followed by a delicious dinner. Workshop was supported by a grant from Partnership for Healthier Jersey City. Hudson County Freeholder William O’Dea recognized the importance of getting help for depression and other mental illnesses that can lead a person to thoughts of suicide. He highlighted how frightening the rise in suicides is especially among teenagers. 

Lily Arora, MD, an addiction psychiatrist and Anu Upadhyay, MD, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, discussed common misconceptions about suicide and contrasted them with facts. For example, one myth is a belief that asking someone about thoughts of suicide could actually drive them to do it. In reality, reaching out to someone and asking them if there is something wrong could lead them to realize that such a drastic choice is not the right answer to their problems. Dr. Arora highlighted a correlation between living in isolation, or in areas with a larger presence of firearms with increased rates of suicide. Several presenters stressed that seeking treatment for mental illness helps to prevent suicides. 

Dr. Upadhyay reinforced the importance of every person’s ability to help prevent suicide in our society. She described the warning signs of suicide. She also provided excellent strategies to improve communication between teens and their parents that can help to mitigate these risks.

Vasudev Makhija, MD, a psychiatrist and president of SAMHIN, presented the alarming statistics of suicides. He explained that even though suicides in New Jersey rank 49th in the country, it is still equivalent to 1 death every 11 hours in the state. He stressed that suicides can be prevented and preventing suicides is everyone’s business.

Two suicide loss survivors, Richana Huertas and Shikha Sadhar, shared their deeply personal stories about losing their loved ones to suicide. Their poignant expressions of experiences as loss survivors reflected the importance of the presentations that evening. Suicide can rip families apart, and people need to know the repercussions it can have on one’s friends and family. Richana and Shikha’s courage for sharing their experiences is admirable. Their openness helped decrease stigma and made it easier for many other participants in the workshop to come forward and share their experiences of losses to suicide.

Dr. Makhija and one of the survivors also mentioned the importance of support for loss survivors. Information was given on how to find a support group. Participants were told about the recently launched, SAMHIN-run support group, Janani, in Edison, NJ as an excellent resource for those dealing with the loss of a loved one to suicide.  Janani meets every Monday from 7:30pm – 9:00pm at New Dover United Methodist Church, 687 New Dover Rd, Edison, NJ.

More information can be found by contacting Shikha at 908-280-2833 or online at www.samhin.org/janani. If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Trained workers answer phones 24/7.

SAMHIN, South Asian Mental Health Initiative & Network, is a non-profit organization that strives to address the mental health needs of South Asians. www.samhin.org

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