On 1 March, police constable Sarwar Hossen, a 999 National Emergency Service (NES) operator, received a call. A tensed voice on the other end informed him that a man was attempting suicide in his own home in the capital's Bhatara area.
The 45-years old chartered accountant had just gone live on Facebook to let his followers know that he was going to take his own life. The announcement stunned people following him. How could they save the man's life? Fortunately, a colleague of his had the presence of mind to dial 999.
Sarwar jotted down the address and notified Bhatara Police Station instantly. Police reached the place without any delay but found the house locked from the inside. Police unlocked the door with the help of the chartered accountant's chauffeur and found the 45-year old unconscious. Later, they took him to have his stomach pumped and he eventually survived.
According to NES, the chartered accountant had swallowed 32 sleeping pills at once. He had been suffering from depression due to family feuds.
There are several cases in recent years of law enforcement and civil defence agencies stopping suicide attempts. Many of these interventions were initiated by the NES. However, credit also goes to those who dialled 999.
Since its inception in 2017, NES had stopped 1,492 suicide attempts, till 31 January of this year. During that time, however, at least 1,135 interventions failed as the distraught took his or her life before the police could arrive.
Dhanmondi resident Abu Mohashin Khan committed suicide, streaming it on Facebook live, on 2 February night. The live stream continued for 17 minutes until he shot himself in the head.
Mohashin, a cancer patient, had been leading a lonely life. He said he had been cheated by frauds. In the 12th minute of the live stream, Mohashin hinted that he was going to take his own life.
Several Facebook friends of Mohashin watched the live stream. One of them dialled 999 and sought intervention. Dhanmondi police reached Mohashin's place but all they found was a dead body.
But at least someone tried to stop Mohashin from ending his life. There were several incidents where people could not even figure out how to stop it.
On 7 February, Prakash Dey went live on Facebook from his home in Chattagram. He looked depressed and dejected. He went live to request his friends and family to take care of his mother in his absence.
He said, "Can you fathom how much pain one must endure to even begin contemplating suicide? I have struggled all my life but haven't accomplished anything. Do you know why? Because honesty has no value. I bid you farewell. Please forgive me."
Prakash then hung himself from the ceiling fan, and the screen went dark.
His live stream was only seen by a few people. The comments read: "What happened Prakash Da?", "What problems are you dealing with?", "Why are you departing for the eternal world so early?" None of them could stop the suicide attempt.
Perhaps they did not know how to stop a person from commiting suicide during a live stream.
How many people like Mohashin and Prakash die by suicide every day? Do they take their own lives on a whim?
According to a University of Oxford study, while some suicides are deliberative and involve careful planning, many appear to have been hastily decided upon and to involve little or no planning. Chronic, underlying risk factors such as substance abuse and depression are also often present, but the acute period of heightened risk for suicidal behaviour is often only minutes or hours long.
Anchal Foundation estimated that at least 14,436 people committed suicide between 8 March 2020 and 28 February 2021, which means that 39 people took their lives every day on average during that time period, in Bangladesh. Based on news reports, the most prominent reasons behind the suicides were relationship issues, family disputes, mental pressure, financial crisis, study-related issues and drug addiction.
In the last couple of years, several incidents of suicide on social media live streams have taken place. Some posted suicide notes on social media before cutting themselves off from all modes of communication. But, before commiting suicide, they wanted to vent their feelings to people.
Psychologists believe that in these cases a quick intervention is a must. People trying to stop suicide attempts should try to ensure that the suicidal person's mind is diverted and the suicide attempt is delayed.
If a person disconnects themselves from every available mode of communication after announcing suicide, it will be hard to intervene. In that case, the priority should be in restoring contact.
University of Dhaka's clinical psychology Professor Mohammad Mahmudur Rahman told The Business Standard, "Proper intervention means that the suicidal person feels the presence of someone who can empathise with their grief. Then a motivational conversation should begin."
"I will first let him or her feel that I am empathetic. Initially, I will not push them to stop [the attempt] immediately. Our conversation will be prolonged by giving the person space so that he or she can promptly share their grief. When my attentive role relieves the person from mental stress, there is a high chance that the suicide attempt will be halted voluntarily," Mahmudur said.
He added that afterwards, interventions should be motivational and convincing, so that the suicidal person can get away from negative feelings. And this type of conversation could also be initiated by people close to them.
Dealing with a person having suicidal thoughts, however, is not an easy task. 'Be patient' should be the motto. If a skilled professional handles this situation, successful intervention is highly possible.
He said a suicide prevention programme is needed at the national level to design a complete intervention package so that people having suicidal thoughts are brought under long-term treatment. The programme should involve psychiatrists, psychologists, family members and community leaders.
Mahmudur finds it positive when people try to stop suicide attempts even by asking help from law enforcement agencies.
He, again, said that responders need to be trained up. Nonetheless, a person's suicidal behaviour needs to be neutralised by psychological treatment and here the professionals can be involved with the services.
"Why shouldn't there be a helpline operated by skilled psychologists?" he questioned.
Additional Deputy Inspector General Mohammad Tabarak Ullah, chief of NES, said, "If we have psychiatrists and psychologists in our team, we can deal with people's behavioural issues."
NES needs access to an automatic call location system too. "Often, a caller's local dialect confuses the call-takers or a caller fails to provide a detailed address or it takes time to trace the location. If we could trace the location instantly, our response time would be shortened and we could save more lives," Tabarak said.