In financial distress? Seek help, don’t commit suicide

Shedding the stigma around failure, sharing issues with the family and seeking financial assistance from others can help alleviate distress and help people recover faster, says experts.

A small businessman (details withheld to maintain anonymity), with international operations, lost between $2 million- $3 million during the Covid-19 crisis.

He owed large amounts to local banks and private sources.

His friend saw signs of depression and suicidal tendencies, and promptly got him help.

A mental health professional guided him towards overcoming the shame of asking for financial and other assistance, and the man and his business are now on their way to recovery.

Lack of timely intervention and awareness about mental health issues still result in a large number of businesspersons committing suicide.

A total of 9,052 such cases were seen in 2019, an increase of 13.3 per cent over the previous year.

The rate of growth is also higher than the 2.7 per cent seen in 2018.

This is a higher rate of growth than seen for farmers who committed suicide.

Similar rates of growth may result in the former overtaking farmers, who have been the most affected, with over 10,000 cases each year.

Early intervention, however, can help prevent such incidents, say experts.

Mumbai-based psychiatrist Harish Shetty pointed out that there is often a great deal of stigma attached to failure.

This makes entrepreneurs less likely to seek the help which could get them out of the financial issues they might be facing.

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in many middle-class families with businesses finding themselves running out of cash.

Assets like houses have become extremely difficult to liquidate.

“Small businesses are suffering,” Shetty said.

“Shedding the stigma around failure, sharing issues with the family and seeking financial assistance from others can help alleviate distress and help people recover faster,” he said.

Psychiatrist and author Anjali Chhabria said many feel embarassed for not being able to pay their employees.

Many in the show business, e.g. the film industry, found they were not earning anything despite the looming deadline to repay loans.

“I’ve seen a lot of people in different industries who have been impacted,” she said.

“Cases may well increase without adequate intervention as the economy reels under a significant contraction,” she suggested.

Gross domestic product (GDP) was down 23.9 per cent for the three months ending June, showed government data.

Estimates suggest that the year is likely to see a double-digit decline in GDP.

Seeking help and taking steps like downsizing expenses can help people weather the crisis, suggested Chhabria.

The figure for 2019 includes 3,351 categorised as vendors, 2,906 tradesmen and 2,795 people classified under other business.

The data pertains to the profession of the people who died, without going into the reasons for the death.

This translates into over a dozen deaths every day on an average during the year.

The gender break-up shows that men accounted for over 93.6 per cent of suicides among businesspersons.

This could also be a reflection of the skewed ownership of business enterprises.

The sixth economic census showed that women owned only 15.4 per cent of proprietary establishments.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been a co-sponsor of World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD), observed on September 10 and  organised by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP).

Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

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