Published: 04th April 2017
Lessons from Arjun Bhardwaj's suicide: Are FB live videos the new suicide notes?
Just because you have a stream of depressed posts on social media doesn't mean that someone is listening, or at least listening hard enough to care. Here are important takeaways from this sad episode
The 24-year old engineering student was wearing a bath robe, had a bottle of wine in his hand, a cigarette sticking out of his mouth and before killing himself, he showed the audience a view of the window he was about to jump out of, at the five-star hotel he had checked into only a few hours before.
His last Facebook status was a picture of the view captioned "View to die for" along with a laughing emoji and now the video has reached far and wide. But this is not the first time that this has happened, Arjun's video was only 1.40 minutes long, so his chances of getting help might have been slim but a 12-year old live-streamed her suicide for 20 minutes and in a similar incident a 14-year old American live-streamed her suicide video for a whole two hours, and yet, neither of the teens got any help.
In many cases, experts say that depressed people don't open up and that they keep to themselves, so one doesn't know what is going on but what about those who don't hesitate to shout out their problems from platforms as wide and expansive as social media?
Why does no one hear them?
Lessons to learn from Arjun Bhardwaj's suicide
#1 Just because you're saying it on FB it doesn't mean someone's listening
Even though the intention is to reach people and social media might seem like the easiest way- it isn't. "In normal instances, if a person is depressed, they would approach a relative or a friend and confide in them, that person would then proceed to get help for their loved one. But when you want to make announcements on social media, no one cares. No one hears you because even though it might reach a lot of people, it does not reach the right people," said Dr K V Kishore, director of The Banyan, a mental health NGO.
When you want to make announcements on social media, no one cares. No one hears you because even though it might reach a lot of people, it does not reach the right people
Dr K V Kishore, The Banyan - Director
They still need to open up. "In the case of depression, there is no possibility of getting help for the person unless and until they open up. If they request help from family or friends, it is a different issue. On social media, help will only come after that person has taken the extreme step of killing themselves. It always gets too late," he added.
The WHO tagline for depression is - Let's talk, "It is not 'let's post a video or a blog'. It is "let's talk", you have to talk to people. You have to be face to face with someone and ask for help, posting a status on FB is not going to get you anywhere," said the director.
#2 Depression is deceptive, it isn't all about being anti-social and sad
In the case of Arjun, his smiling face in the video leaves a haunting feeling — some people called this attitude frivolous. Some commentators on his Facebook page claimed that he was someone who didn't take his life seriously. Some people even raised questions about the circumstances of his suicide, calling him 'spoilt' for filming himself in the five-star hotel with a bottle of wine in his hand. Some went so far as to say he did not deserve sympathy because of the way he died, for making such a "show' of it.
But depression is deceptive, experts say, "Depression is not present in every person the same way. Some may retreat into a cocoon, not speak, not sleep, sleep too much, not talk and for some others, it is jokes and smiles and faking happiness. In this case, the boy probably felt he was anyway going to die so he might as well do it in the way that he likes, in a five-star hotel. Do everything that he likes before he dies, also since he was under the influence of alcohol he wouldn't have had any inhibitions to do what he did," the doctor said.
Dr Yamini Kannappan, consultant psychiatrist, Kaveri Hospitals. said that people would also do this with the intention of taking revenge on someone or to ensure that a certain person or group of people watch the video. "What they want is to memorialise their lives and they think this is the way to do it," she added.
#3 Depressed people have lots to say — till the very end
It could be because he wanted to make a statement, not let his death go in vain or it could also be because suicide is romanticised and it might have seemed 'heroic' at that point — these are all the views of psychologists. It could be any of these things but what is the impact? Will the world forget Arjun Bhardwaj or will he accomplish his goal to leave a trace of his smiling face?
#4 Even when you kill yourself, there's someone aping you
There's a bigger danger here. Like copycat murders, copycat suicides are a thing too. "This could lead to 'copycat' suicides. Others might feel inspired to do the same thing. Youngsters should not get swayed by videos like this and think that they could do the same thing and it would go viral or people would admire them," explained Shalini, a psychologist.
For those who are suffering from depression and happen to watch this video it could act as an enabler, "People would also feel like they can do the same thing. And for those who don't have depression would also be impacted by this, it is an 'acquired capability'. It could lead to a string of similar suicides. More research should be done on the impact that these videos have on the viewers," said Dr Yamini Kannappan.
Even when people post sad statuses, pictures, WhatsApp profile pictures, they are all signs of depression, Kannappan said, "Since our lives revolve around social media so much, it is important to stop being passive viewers. People have to be sensitised about how to react in such situations because it shows that there is a deep longing for help. We have to stop being so apathetic and have to pick up the phone and call up those who are showing signs of depression on social media."
Since youngsters are so into social media, they might feel alienated because they might not have enough friends as others or not get enough attention. "This could be their last chance to connect with someone, to establish friendships," she explained.
Arjun's video continues to be circulated widely but the world always forgets and it'll forget Arjun Bhardwaj too. Besides going viral, the video has also garnered a lot of ruthless and hateful comments which goes to show, that social media should not be the space to seek help, like psychologists and psychiatrists say
#5 Every suicidal person wants someone to intervene
Suicidal people are always in two minds till the very end. So, even in the very last minute they could change their mind, only if someone intervenes, "So putting up such videos is a cry for help, even at the last minute they hope that someone will stop them from doing it. That's why we have helplines, because people can change their decisions at the last minute." Kannappan explained.