July 02, 2006
Suicide of a young, brilliant, lady officer in the Indian Army
About a fortnight ago, a woman officer of the Indian Army, a Lieutenant shot herself dead in the Command Headquarters in Northern India. This tragic death led to a flood of shocked responses from society. In an interview on a television channel a Brigadier of the Indian Army stated that – 'the officer was suffering from low self-esteem and was being treated for Depression.' A very senior retired lady officer, a doctor, stated that one had to be both physically and mentally strong to cope with the rigours of Army life. Did it imply that the Lieutenant was not mentally strong to cope? She was ‘a brilliant and strong girl’ - said the people who had known her well in the town she had grown up. 'She was a gold medallist' stated her grieving father. No one seemed to pay much attention to her younger brother's words. 'It was Depression - nothing else', he said. Unfortunately only those of us watching with loved ones struggling with Mental Illnesses would have understood. In the frenzy of media reporting no one highlighted the young Lieutenant’s battle with Depression. It was assumed that Suicide was the natural culmination of Depression.
To watch their dearly loved daughter spiralling down into a deep Depression must not have been easy for the Lieutenant’s family. Living with someone with Depression takes its own emotional toll. And finally to hear the one you loved deeply being spoken of just as someone with a ‘personality weakness’, ‘low self esteem’, ‘lacking confidence’ is so cruel. The senior officers in the Army interviewed on television attributing such qualities to the late lady Lieutenant showed appalling ignorance and insensitivity. Disregarding the fact that less than a year ago, the same lady had done extremely well in the Training Course in the Army Centre.
Hospitalization and timely help could have made this suicide a preventable tragedy. But then the Military hospitals in India do not have psychiatric wings with ‘beds for women’. Presently the psychiatric wings have beds ‘only for men’. The reason why wives and daughters of personnel in the Armed Forces cannot be hospitalised even when they are in acute condition. If at all a lady officer with a psychiatric condition is hospitalized, which is rare, it is done so in the General Ward of the Family Wing. There are ‘escorts’ that are posted to protect her from self-harm and other actions that result from the disturbed thought processes that occur when one is very ill.
The tragic death of the young lady Lieutenant has led to fiery debates about equality for women in the Armed Forces. That there must be equal opportunities for combat duties in the front and so on. However it is strange no one talks about parity in mental health services by providing crisis intervention centres and hospitalization in mental health facilities when a lady officer, wife or daughter of uniformed personnel is in the throes of acute Depression or severe mental illness. Today many uniformed personnel serve in the borders of our country and many families stay in their villages tending to their piece of land for an additional income. I remember meeting one such mother whose husband would come home once a year, off-duty for his annual vacation. Her daughter struggled with Depression and was often suicidal. She would tell her mother to tie her feet with a strong rope to a pillar before the feelings to kill herself became overpowering. She would stay tied while the mother went out and worked.
Eleven years ago when my daughter sunk into Depression, the good psychiatrist at the Military Hospital told me, “Make sure she is never alone, but be discreet.” I thought then that it was to take care - in case she had the reaction to the medications which she had just started taking. I recall how I trembled within all the while waiting for the unknown. Today with better understanding of this illness when my daughter goes through the debilitating relapses I know why the psychiatrist wanted me to watch over her.
Posted by survivor at July 2, 2006 01:53 PM
the death og the army lady officer is not the first suicide by a lady officer of the armed forces. Indian navy takes the lead as lieutenant R Sharma committed suicide in INS Hamla in Mumbai in year 2001. The fact was hidden from the media in a typical naval manner. the circumstances which led to the suicide are still unknown even to the officers
Posted by: Sharma at July 25, 2006 09:51 PM
Dear Indian Mother,
I find when my daughter Cassie suffers from depression it’s the most difficult symptom to deal with. My daughter becomes desperately lonely and sad. Usually she resorts to sleeping almost 24 hours a day. She describes sleeping as a blessing. Her hope is always that when she awakes, she will feel better, but in the meanwhile she can escape her debilitating depression. With severe mental illness, be it sz or bipolar, it’s the depression that is so hard to deal with. I’ve heard my daughter say more than once, why should I keep on living Mom. I have to remind her that this too shall pass and remind her again and again when she was feeling well and had energy to do the things she enjoys.
This is such a sad story Indian Mother. I think of the officer’s parents and how devastated they must be with the loss of their once brilliant daughter.
Posted by: Yaya at July 30, 2006 04:21 PM
Dear Indian Mother,
I have been going thru your BLOG only recently..excellent...really excellent..your way of presentation and command of language is very good.More than that your understnding and acceptance of the SCHIZO is really very great.
I am a retired Tamilnadu State Govt;ofiicial now aged 61 years.My second son now aged 32 years has been diagnosed as Schizofernic in 2001;regularly goes for monthly check up and takes his medicines.But the onset of this illnes seems to have started during 1993-94 itself
when he failed in +2 and started giving us a lot of trouble.somehow completed his +2;studied his BA during 1994-97 but unable to get his Degree till date.My family underwent a severe trauma during 1993 to 2001 during which period he was undergoing delusion, hallucination, paronia etc; which we were not able to understand due to our ignorance.Though we understood that something was wrong with our son we could not reveal to anybody and get psychiatrists help due to the stigma attached with the mental illnes.My son was also not cooperative to seek medical help;he was violent and rude with all of us.I got blows in my face twice,my elder daughter got punches in her nose once and his younger brother got slaps in his face several times.
My wife used to get lot of scoldigs almost daily from him.Everyday had become a nightmare for us during those untreated period of schizo.
Psychitrists have fefused to see me witohut patient.With the guidance of SCARF(Schizofernia research foundation) of Chennai, i was able to take my son to a Psychiatrist in 2001 and from there onwards we find remarkable changes in him.He is now able to go for Data Entry job and is able to get a salary of abt Rs1500/pm.He is happy abt that.But he wd leave the job at any time due to paronia at the workspot or due to some illtretment by his employers or by some of his collegues.Some of his employers have commented viz;"you are behaving like a psycho";or some of his coworkers wd laugh at him regarding his mannerism.All such treatments wd make us worry;but after some rest and consolation he wd get another data entry job.Life is going on like this.
I used to think whether i shd meet his employers and tell his illnes so that he may get some better treatment(like you have done in your daughters case);but i am afraid of the stigma.I am confused.
Thanks for listenig my case...hope your daughter is going for job ..hope you have recovered from your injury and able to walk without walking stick..best wishes to all of you..please keep writing your experiences and continue this blog.
Posted by gsivakkumar on NOv 27,12:40 AM
Posted by: gsivakkumar at November 28, 2006 12:55 AM
The sad death of the army lady officer is not the first suicide by a lady officer of the armed forces. Indian navy takes the lead as lieutenant R Sharma committed suicide in INS Hamla in Mumbai in year 2001. During 1993-94 itself, when he failed in +2 and started giving them a lot of trouble. Later on, somehow completed his +2; studied his BA during 1994-97 but unable to get his Degree till death. His family underwent a severe trauma after his death; which they were not able to understand due to there ignorance. Though they understood that something was wrong with their son, they could not reveal to anybody and get psychiatrists help due to the stigma attached with the mental illness. This is such a sad story Indian Mother. I think of the officer’s parents and how devastated they must be with the loss of their once brilliant son.
Posted by: Chandan Sharma at December 24, 2006 10:06 PM
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