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Sikhs, Suicide and Silence

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Tejwant Singh, Mar 25, 2013.

  1. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Sikhs, Suicide and Silence

    Imandeep Kaur's blog

    http://www.imandeepkaur.com/sikhs-suicide-and-silence/

    I wish it were as acceptable to go for a mental wellness check up, as it is to have your blood pressure checked. I wish it was acceptable to tell your friend, I think I am really struggling with life – I need help, as it is to say I’ve broken my leg come and shower me with sympathy and gifts! I wish that if someone admitted they were having suicidal thoughts or that they feel the world would be a better place without them, that one, they wouldn’t be mocked, be labeled as ‘mad’, or two, and that it wasn’t brushed aside as a cry for attention. It is hard to actively care, its naïve to say that all suicide can be prevented – as that says that the families that were aware didn’t try hard enough, many do, many struggle for years to help their loved ones battle mental health problems. There are incredible organisations exists that are doing valuable work at all levels to reduce stigma and to make it ok to talk. Time to Change springs to mind – what an incredible brave campaign tackling one of the biggest social problems of our time the stigma attached to mental health. To say nothing is being done, would be a crass generalisation that doesn’t recognise that so much is being done. I am proud at this countries commitment to tackle these issues.

    ‘1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any one year. Statistically that means you are likely to know someone who has been affected.’ Time to Change, 2013.


    When I take a closer look at our community however, there are alarming observations that are specific – many are documented and tackled by research in to BME communities, faith communities and mental health, some are set out as recommendations of how we can tackle the problems and there are small organisations across the country tackling these specific issues. Recent partnerships between a number of faith leaders and prominent campaigns fill my heart with hope. However, as with a number of high level programmes I have worked with some of the heart of the community issues get lost as a number of heads of organisations push their own agendas, and some of the community truths fail to surface.

    This is somewhat of a personal plea, someone you know has a mental health problem, someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, and what’s worse is someone you know is not sure where to turn. The last two years have seen a spate of suicides within the Sikh community, following a public outpouring of grief, there is a loud cry of shock, disbelief ‘but he/she was such a bubbly person, slightly more quietly the inner circle express their were signs, a few private conversations say ‘how selfish, it’s the family who have to deal with it now, how could they have been so thoughtless, it wasn’t that bad’, there is a near unspoken moment where people remember the suicide is a sin in Sikhi – and there is heartfelt prayer for the soul. Then there is silence, stigma, and cycle continues. There isn’t an open space, others don’t encourage discussion, their isn’t open arms and their isn’t a new and renewed commitment in the local community to confront these issues, or support our community with mental health.

    Of course it was the selfish individuals fault for putting everyone through it, I mean it is definitely worse for us all the have to pick up the mess and that is definitely harder – it cannot have been absolute agony to be so rock bottom that you took your own life, no its definitely the selfish individuals fault. Well, that’s ok then lets move on.

    I wouldn’t speak on behalf of the whole Sikh community around the world, but it certainly isn’t even very ‘Sikh’ of you to suffer with depression here in my community – how on earth as an all loving practising Sikh could you possibly even consider depression to be a problem, you should be praying, you have all the tools, there is no option to not be in high spirits all the time. If you are not, then this is also a reflection on how good a ‘Sikh’ you are, how much time you spend praying and you have to just solve your problems.

    The jewel of Sikhi is a diamond one that I have personally experienced, the unfaltering love and support of Vahegurooo (God) and Gurbani (the world of God), is not something you can describe. I have seen and heard of many saved from a multitude of issues through loving devotion to their faith, of course as a baptised Sikh for me it really is the only best friend, soul mate and truth I have. But, Sikhi is practical too; actually being a citizen of the world, of the community, and to my neighbour’s is at the heart of Sikhi for me. So, why have I seen a spate of suicides, 100s of people young and old suffering with depression, loneliness, and a host of mental health issues silently in their own homes, suffering and silently withering away? After having children, its crucial we paint a picture of perfectness you certainly could never be openly struggling with postnatal depression, when leaving your home you certainly couldn’t struggle to adapt to your new circumstances. As a man it’s harder to open up and admit to any problems, it’s a weakness, as a Sikh man it’s a reflection on your whole character. As a woman, you mustn’t do anything other that adapt successfully and fulfill your multiple roles with complete success and without complaint, as a Sikh woman you mustn’t ever admit that this is very hard or that your struggling.

    There is a host of different levels of awareness that are required mainly around different types of mental health problems that exist. How many people are affected? How many of us know that it’s a real illness, an imbalance of our chemistry not something that can often be helped? But, there is always help, there is a way out, and its not always a debilitating life long battle that must end with our community, our neighbour’s, our friends, our parents, and our siblings feeling there is no hope and no way out. There are a number of anonymous and confidential support organisations available around the city, and I encourage everyone to share as many as possible But today, my plea is much simpler – its to every person who reads this blog, its especially to all of those people I know in the UK – that someone you know is really struggling, it takes to bravery, effort, care and commitment to be there. It is our duty as compassionate lights of Vahegurooo (God) to be there as much as we possibly can. Lets start making it ok to talk in our community, next time someone takes their own life, and as brutal as its sounds there will be a next time make sure it wasn’t someone you knew who had no option, no outlet, no compassion that it was a reflection of their bad character, their lack of faith, them as a bad mother, father, sister, brother, friend and Sikh – that instead was something we recognised as real and should have supported them through to a brighter future.

    Lets somehow begin to end this cycle of Sikhs, Suicide and Silence that is gripping our community whether we choose to admit it or not.

    I wish it was ok to talk, I wish was acceptable in our community to open, I wish it didn’t make us bad Sikhs, I wish we didn’t judge – because maybe the people we’ve lost just in the last two years would still be here today. Or maybe, we will just continue to maintain this awkward silence over the issue and our responsibilities to our community and each other?

    In advance of this rather provoking blog, I feel I will be forced to apologise for being so frank. Maybe it is me who is wrong, perhaps keeping our thoughts and emotions to ourselves and trapping them inside is the right way. Maybe for many this works, when it fails it seems to fail catastrophically in our community however. I have been reminded on a number of occasions of my foolish actions whether it is talking about the critical need for interfaith harmony or the urgent need for real dialogue between the Sikh and Muslim communities in the UK, or a number of other issues I have been vocal about or worked on.

    Maybe I just don’t get it, but I’m convinced unless we share our stories, unless we prepare to be vulnerable how can we expect to build strength, love, trust, unity and bridges across our community. If we can’t build them within our own community how can expect to start building them across the country and world. How long can we hide behind this veil – its exhausting, unproductive, and has no depth in its achievements. I think as humans we all hope that someone will share with us that we are not alone in our struggles – but deeper than that we have to build unity, trust and love as a community to go and be the social activists Guru Nanak Dev Jee ordered us to be – if we cant feel safe in our own home and community, how can we go out an be citizens of the world?

    Someone somewhere is longing deep inside to share their story to not feel alone, someone close to you is suffering, support their struggle with humility, honesty, love and compassion – I’m sort of sure it works.

    aao sakhee gun kaaman kareehaa jeeo
    Come, O sisters lets make virtue our charm.
     

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    #1 Tejwant Singh, Mar 25, 2013
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  3. spnadmin

    spnadmin United States
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    Tejwant ji

    A very good poll could come of this article. Why not send some questions, and I will set it up for you. Getting professional mental health care is not an easy thing, for many reasons.
     
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  4. Inderjeet Kaur

    Inderjeet Kaur
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    I sometimes wonder if our - my - emphasis on chardi kala might do harm to those who are depressed not because of occurrences in life, but because of that famed "chemical imbalance in the brain" that is more biological than an act of will.

    I think a strong positive attitude will always be better than a gloomy one, but what of the person who is unable to muster up that positive attitude? What if japping naam and singing kirtans just don't bring you out of a blue funk? It's cruel and un-Sikh to lay a guilt trip on such a person. I have been there. I respond to people telling me to cheer up, when I cannot cheer up, by laying a massive guilt trip on myself. That does not solve the underlying problem.

    Telling a person with a biologically-based depression to just pull themselves out of it is like telling a person with asthma to "just breathe" or a cancer patient to just stop those nasty tumours from growing. If it were that easy, wouldn't we all do it?

    Of course, there are some things we can do that sometimes help. Exercise, good nutrition, sunshine, sleep, doing sewa. All these can help. Sometimes. Not always.

    The Sikh community's prevalent attitude toward what is called "mental illness" is antiquated and harmful. We need to move into the 21st century; there should be no more shame attached to depression and other mental illnesses than there is to any other physical condition. The only stigma, if any at all, should be in the refusal to get help when help is needed.
     
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    #3 Inderjeet Kaur, Mar 31, 2013
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  5. itsmaneet

    itsmaneet
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    The following WILL disassociate the Sikh from 'silence & suicides' is what SGGS Ji tells us -

    1. Managing Amrit Vela
    2. Doing Regular Nitnem
    3. Associating with Gursikhs
    4. Comtemplating Gurbani
    5. Doing Seva
    6. Being Amrit Dhari Sikhs

    Difficult but am sure people who are doing the above by the grace of Waheguru are the happiest & will be the happiest.

    Gurfateh !
    :mundakhalsaflag:
     
  6. Inderjeet Kaur

    Inderjeet Kaur
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    That is a daunting list even for the strongest, healthiest of Sikhs. It's a goal we shoot for and a very few of us actually attain. A most worthy goal.

    However, handing a list like that to someone who is depressed, someone whose strength is sapped merely by getting out of bed, would be cruel in the extreme, likely to drive the Sikh into deep guilt and despair, possibly to suicide. I am 100% certain that that is not your intention.

    Sometimes, especially when dealing with people in a fragile, vulnerable state, kindness and gentleness are needed more than goals that would be appropriate when they are feeling stronger.
     
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  7. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh United States
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    Inderjeet Kaur ji,

    Guru Fateh.

    Very good and important questions which affect all but especially those who spend their lives rolling in the muds of stigma, guilt, and "what would other say about this" vicious circle?!! And at the same time trying to live a Sikhi way of life of being and seeking Truth through nitnems and other mechanical rituals. We all know Sikhi is all about living a truthful life.

    Mental Sickness is a serious affair which the "Indian culture" is in denial of no matter what religion he or she belongs to. The same is transported where ever they emigrate to. There is a change is the second/third generation immigrants' kids and grand kids but some sub-conscious value baggage still remains in the attics of the minds.

    I remember when I was living in Los Angeles and the Gurdwara in North Hollywood used to be a Freemason's temple rented every Sunday by some of us. We got their very very early, spent time covering their long baroque looking furniture with white sheets to get ready for the diwan.

    Eventually we bought the building and renovated it. The normal Sangat used to be about 500. The Sunday school had 500 students both kids and adults for the Gurbani learning classes in the air conditioned trailers in the parking lot. It was thriving in all aspects with Vaisakhi jaluse, doing Seva on Skid row etc. etc.

    We also had the retired Sikhs kind of community house where they used to be picked up from their houses if they did not have anyway to come to or their children used to drop them during the week. They played cards, chess and other games, had langars, chit chatted with each other and went home in the evening. There were doctors from all fields who looked after them for free even the mental health and medicines were financed by the Gurdwara when the free samples were exhausted. Most of them were visitors and many had green cards but no Medicare.

    Sadly, the committees were divided into 2 different sects/parts. The one who started the Gurdwara from the scratch by renting the hall and being there at 4am to make it ready till it was bought was the Bhappa group whose in charge/financier was my brother. The other was the Jatt group. And they swapped the "headhood" amicably at first every two years.

    But sad to say that this arrangement did not last long. The latter group who were also very wealthy stopped financing the 500 student Sunday school, the "Birdh Ghar" and many other things. One of the doctors who volunteered was a very nice Lady Psychiatrist who was also a Sunday school teacher. She observed some kids with the odd behaviour and got curious about what was wrong with them. The parents did not have any medical insurance. She wanted to help them for free at the Gurdwara for the legal reasons because if they went to her clinic where she worked, there was a charge involved. She and I went to the Jatt honchos of the Gurdwara to ask their permission. They refused and told her to tell the parents and the kids to do Simran and all will be cured. Later on I found out that the VP's wife had some mental problems which made her absent from the Gurdwara all the times.

    One more anecdote before the post gets too long. I used to belong to the "Dodra Vaheguru Jatha" who have Samagams all over the world over the weekends. They do Simran for an hour in the mornings and in the evenings. Keertan is done by the Sangat. Many kids learnt how to do keertan there. Very comfortable environment. People greet each other by hugging tightly especially with the opposite sex and greet each other with "Dhan Guru Nanak", neither of which were my fancy. Most of them are professionals, hence well off. People travel from all over the US to the cities where the Samagams are held. The Honchos from their Calgary HQ in Canada come as the chief guests. During one of the Samagams, one of the ladies was having marital problems and tried to seek help to solve it. She was told by this long chola wearing Honcho from Calgary to do Simran and all would be fine. He held her tightly with one arm while saying this which made me feel very uncomfortable. I left the "sect" the same day. It was kind of an organic separation which grew with time while watching men's behaviour towards the women.

    One day, I hear that the same guy had been sentenced in Calgary for 5 years. He had raped one of the Dodra sangat girl who was brave enough to come forward. I have no idea if everyone else did the same or came close to it because the honchos had the aura of mind control specially over the women.

    In nutshell, this is the problem we face in Sikhi and in Hinduism with the Indian mentality. It also gets into the religions especially with the women who kind of get into trances when the Simran or with the Hindu jagrans- all nighters-, where dancing is involved. They are defined as the loons.

    Mental health is a serious problems among all spectrum of peoples and it should be taken seriously so that people who suffer from it can be treated. It is dangerous to sweep this under the rugs we stand upon because the self created mounds underneath are bound to make us trip and it may be too late for many then.

    Shhh... should be stopped especially by those who want to be in-tuned with Satt.

    Regards

    Tejwant Singh
     
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    #6 Tejwant Singh, Mar 31, 2013
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  8. findingmyway

    findingmyway
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    Suicide is not selfish but a cry of desperation. The world is becoming more selfish, people more isolated so the discussion about depression is more important than ever :whatzpointkudi:
     
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  9. Luckysingh

    Luckysingh Canada
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    When every direction in your life seems to be a brick wall, then suicide becomes the most reasonable option.
    When you feel that you may be a burden on society or those around you and that it would be better you were not present, then too, suicide becomes a reasonable option.
     
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