Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan has paid tribute to a resident doctor at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi, following his death by suicide.
“Shocked & distressed to hear of the painful death of young & most brilliant Dr Anurag Kumar, Junior Resident at AIIMS Delhi,” Vardhan wrote on Twitter. “He was under treatment for severe depression for sometime now & took away his own life. My heart bleeds for his family. Condolences to them & his colleagues.”
Dr Kumar’s situation is not out of the ordinary, neither in the medical community nor among the general population. Depression, mental health issues and suicides are far too common in India.
Among the medical community, a number of factors combine to create an endlessly stressful work environment. Long hours, the risk of patients dying, critical levels of understaffing and targeted abuse and harassment are some of the many issues affecting India’s healthcare workers. For those in rural areas, they may not even have the necessary tools to perform their jobs adequately.
This is particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, with doctors working round the clock in attempts to contain India’s burgeoning disease figures. At the beginning of the pandemic, research undertaken in China found that during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, around a third of medical staff suffered from insomnia. This was coupled with increases in anxiety, physician burnout, and abuse from patients.
Depression among doctors and medical staff is common. In the case of Dr Kumar, the situation was particularly tragic, as he had documented his experiences with depression in a blog. Titled ‘A psychiatry trainee’s struggle with depression’, Dr Kumar talked about how his depression started and how he began looking for options to end his life.
“In February, I lost all hopes and started looking for suicide options. “I considered jumping from the tenth floor of my hostel, but was too afraid of residual paralysis if I survived. I am overweight and hanging would have been difficult with the fragile hostel fan. Finally, I stumbled across a website that was providing bulk quantity poison and alas! I paid my hard-earned internship money to them.”
Dr Kumar struggled with episodes of depression, being temporarily committed to the psychiatry ward in which he worked by his colleague. After release the issues continued, with Kumar eventually ending his life, jumping from the tenth floor of the AIIMS doctors’ hostel.
Dr Kumar’s death is a tragedy, and underlines India’s continued neglect of mental health issues. Despite around 197 million individuals in the country affected by mental health conditions, mental healthcare accounts for just 0.16 percent of the government budget for health. In addition, there is an acute shortage of psychiatric professionals in the country. Data indicates that there are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 psychologists and 0.07 social workers for every 100,000 Indians. More must be done to help these individuals, or more will feel isolated enough to consider drastic solutions to issues that may be aided with the proper resources and mental healthcare.
If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.