Flirting with suicide in your twenties

Published: October 9, 2014
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The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

From a distance, he appears to have it all. An apartment in Central London, a job at one of the top accounting firms in the world, a family that loves him and a long list of rishta wali aunties approaching his mother with decent prime prospects. When he first mentioned that he’s so depressed that he wants to commit suicide, I ignored his comment. I thought he was being ungrateful and over-dramatic.

He went on to argue his story: after graduating from university, he’s been supporting his family, particularly financing his brothers through their university education. As the rest of his friends raced ahead in terms of getting married, settling down and saving money, he prioritised taking care of his brothers. He says he has no money to show in the bank after six years of working 12-hour days in London. His mother criticises him for only providing financial but no emotional support to his brothers. He lost his group of friends early on in London because he wouldn’t drink or go out and party. Bored of his job routine, lonely on the weekends and stuck in a rut of why-do-bad-things-only-happen-to-me, this was a man who needed to walk back from the brink.

The second time he mentioned suicide, he went on to add: “If something does go wrong, I want someone to know the truth.” What I should have done at this stage was tell him to go see a therapist. But that’s not how two Pakistani guys talking at a sheesha cafe converse usually. So I gave him three classic ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions: I told him to get married, start praying regularly and get busy in a hobby or sport that he enjoyed. In hindsight, I feel silly for giving him such generic, overused advice right out of a Pakistani mother’s playbook but I did think there was merit in all three for him. He agreed with the advice but said he wanted an external, miracle solution to fix all his problems instantly. I told him no one else — but he himself — could solve his problems. He grew more morose. To lighten the mood, I joked that the best I could do was write an article breaking down his problems for him but no one can actually solve his problems for him. To my surprise, he argued that I should write an article on his problems. “Maybe someone out there has a solution for me,” he remarked.

I forgot about this conversation until the next week, when another friend, who was having trouble at work in Karachi, called and shared his story. “Everyone in my family thinks I have the perfect life,” he said. “They only see my six-figure salary but don’t understand the amount of stress I’m under because my company isn’t doing well. I could lose my job soon and everything will collapse.” He talked about the thought of suicide in passing and I didn’t react. When he mentioned suicide for the third time, I questioned whether you’re supposed to take casual references to suicide weaved into a conversation about depression seriously, even though you don’t assess actual danger because you believe the person is ‘normal’ (whatever normal means in this context). I tried to trace the source of my anxiety: in my fourth year in university, the LUMS student body went into deep shock over a student who committed suicide. There were many conversations about what close friends could or should have seen coming.

Three insights emerge from these conversations. First, we need to break the social taboo around seeking professional help for mental health challenges, especially between Pakistani men. If a friend would complain of physical injury, I would take them to the doctor and feel that that was the right thing to do. But when it comes to mental problems, I feel I’d be a bad friend if I referred him to a doctor instead of offering solutions myself. This is point-blank wrong. Second, we underestimate the power of routine and boredom to trigger a self-destructive cycle. Third, in creating the image of a ‘perfect’ life, we imprison ourselves within the boundaries of social expectations. It’s almost as if success proves to be our undoing because we’re afraid of losing ‘everything’ almost as soon as we achieve it.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Lahori
    Oct 9, 2014 - 1:02AM

    You certainly have touched the right chords here.

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  • Zahid
    Oct 9, 2014 - 8:08AM

    My sons are and have been in similar situation. But they never think of suicide. I know this because we talk about everything between us. You are wrong. Marriage is a wonderful fighter of boredom, routine, etc. I got my sons married around 27 and they are supporting the younger brothers enthusiastically and never tire of it and they are not bored, as they have opportunity to socialize and play and go for long rides and for tours with their younger brothers.
    Those in similar situation should do the following to overcome depression and suicidal tendencies:
    One, get married.
    Two, mix with younger brothers and be open about their problems with their parents.
    Three, think of reward that come in this life of helping others and the rewards in the hereafter.
    Four, if still necessary join a genuine spiritual order, where a selfless teacher helps to show you the way for easing your life. But such teachers are far and few in between and a struggle to find.
    Good luck.

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  • V
    Oct 9, 2014 - 10:08AM

    Going through similar problems, but its amazing how people just say, get married, like that is a very simple solution. Go to the store, pick out what you like and get married.

    For two people to get married, there has to be consent of both parties, which is quite problematic in my case. I have a very long list of rejections. Thus it becomes a positive feedback loop which increases depression even more.

    As far as I can see, the only thing that could improve things is if something drastic were to happen. Suicide to me, means giving up and that doesn’t agree with me, but if it were somehow to happen by not my doing…

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  • Ali
    Oct 9, 2014 - 2:36PM

    Good effort but a vastly misunderstood condition. As a person diagnosed with clinical depression, there are no obvious ‘markers’ that bring about a bout of depression. In your case you mention your friends under a lot of pressure- that however does not necessarily translate to what depression really is. Depression creeps onto the victims without their consent, without a reason, without a warning sign. It’s like a monster which clouds your ability to feel sane, let alone happy and you could be the richest, most popular, good looking person in the whole world and yet be a victim of depression. Depression does not happen to people because of lack of job security, finances or marital troubles- it happens to anyone who is pre-disposed to it biologically. Medications help keep them in check and I’ve dabbled with them but at great personal cost- the drugs could end up numbing you so you don’t end up feeling anything. You become a human zombie. What your friends need is a therapist to talk to about their problems or you could try be a more supportive friend if they genuinely are stressed or maybe even depressed (though two are not intertwined).

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  • khadija
    Oct 9, 2014 - 3:28PM

    our worries can only end when we stop running after materialistic world, as what has to happen will happen anyhow, why shall we worry of loosing something that we are ultimately going to loose when we die.

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  • Toticalling
    Oct 9, 2014 - 3:40PM

    Mental problems resulting from depression and inability to cope with pressure of life is very common all over the world. The problem is that professional help does not help to most pf people. One way to avoid such sickness for the future generation is to look after our children with love and understanding and always listen to them. Some experts believe that if we are to ease distress we must abandon our faith in therapy and take better care of each other. Psychotherapy might offer comfort, clarification and encouragement, but for many, perhaps most, it does not offer a cure. This can only be found through changes in our social arrangements.
    It made me sad reading this story.

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  • Haroon
    Oct 9, 2014 - 5:06PM

    In my personal opinion, the only problem of the abovementioned person is sharing. He needs someone who is aware of his nature and feelings and can fully understand the type of situation he is going through, for some people, it is usually the opposite gender but it isn’t always the case…

    This person is facing pressure from all sides but has nothing to release that pressure and this pressure has been boiling over the period of time and know it seems it is near the explosion time. This person needs to umderstand that he needs to live life for himself and only when he does this, he will be able to live life for others. He needs to open himself to others and start trusting others with his problems. This will help him to release pressure and be able to live a prosperous and healthy life….

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  • Feroz
    Oct 9, 2014 - 6:32PM

    Depression has different effects on different people, at times making them suicidal. At times the pressure of coping with success or for the sake of career acting in a manner that affects ones conscience, could be triggers. The weight of family expectations could also become too heavy to bear. I have known the most brilliant students with enviable academic record suddenly going off the boil and into another world where neither their parents, teachers or friends can reach.
    At times counselling helps, at times medication helps, however what is lacking is the inability of a third person to understand what is going through the sufferers mind, which means he remains alone and unable to share or articulate his fears. Understanding, care and love are required when this happens but unfortunately those around the patient get impatient and their frustration negatively impacts him. Professional help is needed but even after treatment the situation can at best be mitigated, when the networks in the Brain get rearranged with strong medication, a different personality emerges. Mental health remains an subject where a lot of work still needs to be done because the mysteries of the Brain have not been fully conquered, merely scratched.

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  • Zahid
    Oct 9, 2014 - 9:36PM

    Let me add:
    If there is really a physical disability of the brain or some behavioral malady that has a physical origin, then the only way is to see a psychiatrist or neurologist as per the recommendation of the primary care physician.
    If the problems are only psychological and of social and/or individual maladjustment to one’s situation in life, then family members, wife, brothers, and others can help. Also, importantly, what helps is focusing on one’s relationship with the Creator who has prescribed proper ways of dealing with responsibilities and has given everyone due rights that one should claim, exercise, and enjoy.

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  • gp65
    Oct 9, 2014 - 11:48PM

    @Zahid:
    “Those in similar situation should do the following to overcome depression and suicidal tendencies:
    One, get married.
    Two, mix with younger brothers and be open about their problems with their parents.
    Three, think of reward that come in this life of helping others and the rewards in the hereafter.
    Four, if still necessary join a genuine spiritual order, where a selfless teacher helps to show you the way for easing your life. But such teachers are far and few in between and a struggle to find.”

    A depressed person getting married is a standard solution which ruins the life of a young girl. It is better that such a person receive the psychiatric care they desrrve without judgment or people thinking they are going to dimaag ka Doctor so they must be paagal.

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  • gp65
    Oct 9, 2014 - 11:49PM

    @V:
    Marriage is not a solution. Please seek psychiatric health. No one tells diabetics to have will power to fight diabetes. They take medication. Same is needed for depression also. Please do not hesitate to seek the professional medical health you need. Good luck.

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  • Zahid
    Oct 10, 2014 - 7:37AM

    @gp65:
    “A depressed person getting married is a standard solution which ruins the life of a young girl.”
    Not every depression is so severe as to warrant psychiatric treatment. If it is that severe then yes, first seek psychiatric treatment.
    However, as I have said before: “If the problems are only psychological and of social and/or individual maladjustment to one’s situation in life, then family members, wife, brothers, and others can help.”
    The foregoing statement assumes that the gentleman is married. But if he is not, part of the solution might be to get married as a lonely man is more inclined to depression. Off course, this also includes, getting parents and other family members’ help and their understanding.
    Again, let me reiterate that if one has severe depression that needs a physician to address then marriage is not A solution.
    Best wishes.

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