If we compare Kashmir to western societies the rate is less, but among Muslim societies the suicides in Kashmir are very high
Suicide is defined as a fatal self-injurious act with some evidence of intent to die. Suicidal thoughts and behaviors include suicidal ideation, suicidal attempt and suicidal death. According to World Health Organization (WHO), 800000 people die by suicide every year, i.e. one person every forty seconds- making it a principal cause of death among people in the age group of 14-29 years (Sunalini Mathew 2018). According to 2012 Lancert Report, suicide rates in India are the highest among the 15-29-age group- the youth population. As per the, “Global Burden of Disease” data, 23 lakh people in India die due to suicide every year. This means that, after every four minutes, one person in India perishes to suicide.In 2017-LOKNITI-CSDS released a survey that showed that 4 out of 10 students went through depression. The survey which was conducted between the age group of 15-34 years, also found that one out of four youth moderately suffered from depression, worthlessness and suicidal thoughts. Six percent of them got suicidal thoughts at leastonce.
Although suicide is a deeply personal and an individual act, suicidal behavior is determined by a number of individual and social factors. Ever since Esquirol wrote that “All those who committed suicide are insane” and Durkheim proposed that suicide was an outcome of social / societal situations, the debate of individual vulnerability vs social stressors in the causation of suicide has divided our thoughts on suicide. Suicide is best understood as a multidimensional, multifactorial malaise. Suicide is perceived as a social problem in our country and hence, mental disorder is given equal conceptual status with family conflicts, social maladjustment etc. According to the official data, the reason for suicide is not known for about 43% of suicides while illness and family problems contribute to about 44% of suicides (Vijaykumar 2007).
Emile Durkheim, in his magnum opus entitled, “Suicide”, indicates that suicide can be a result of social changes. He suggested that, social cohesion and traditional family life increased the feeling of belongingness and protected against self-destructivebehavior. However, the breakdown of societies and families as a result of self-centered and materialistic mentalities resulted in isolation, individualistic undertakings and alienation. As societies, which were traditionally collective adapted a more capitalistic approach; it resulted in an increased feeling of isolation and sadness, an incremental dilution of self worth. Moreover, widespread socio-economic and cultural changes are highly stressful. The effects of modernization, specifically in India, have led to sweeping changes in the socioeconomic, socio-philosophical and cultural arenas of people's lives, which have greatly added to the stress in life, leading to substantially higher rates of suicide. In India, the high rate of suicide among young adults can be associated with greater socioeconomic stressors that have followed the liberalization of the economy and privatization leading to the loss of job security, huge disparities in incomes and the inability to meet role obligations in the new socially changed environment. The breakdown of the joint family system that had previously provided emotional support and stability is also seen as an important causal factor in suicides in India.
The Kashmir scenario
As per the Human Rights Commission of India, suicides are said to have claimed the second highest number of lives after militancy. While it is estimated that more than 60,000 lives have been lost in the State since militancy erupted in 1988, the suicide toll through the years runs into thousands. Quoting psychiatrists, the report said that the incessant violence in the valley has devastated the psyche of the Kashmiris and stress-related diseases have grown manifold across the social spectrum, driving people mostly youngsters - increasingly to suicide.An increasing number of suicides is an alarming situation in Kashmir valley and a matter of concern these days. It is a social evil and threat to mankind and humanity itself as a whole. Suicide estimates suggest fatalities worldwide could rise to 1.5 million by the year 2020.
Political instability has a negative impact on thesocial, economic and material fabric of society andgives rise to stressors affecting the everyday life andlivelihood of the population. The emotional and psychological impact of the resulting violence is deeply felt by all, irrespective of gender, age, occupation and location. Doctors in Kashmir valley don’t doubt that more than two decades of warfare have left the locals depressed, fatigued, traumatized and broken. The rate of suicide has gone up 26-fold, from 0.5 per 100,000 before the insurgency to 13 per 100,000 now, says Dr ArshadHussain, a psychiatrist from the state’s only Psychiatric Diseases Hospital, (Bhat 2019).SaibaVerma, a researcher at the department of Anthropology, Cornell University, reports that, “the Srinagar Psychiatric hospital had about 1,700 visitors in 1990 and the number grew to over 100,000 in 2007. The figure only represents the tip of the ice-berg as many people do not visit mental health experts because of the huge stigma attached to it”, (Verma, 2009).Study conducted by MSF (doctors without borders), a non-governmental organization, has found an alarming increase in the suicide rates by 400 times because of the ongoing violence (Bukhari, 2010). If we compare Kashmir to western societies the rate is less, but among Muslim societies the suicides in Kashmir are very high.The psychological, social and financial impact of suicide on the family and society is immeasurable. Jammu & Kashmir is grappling with numerous issues from Insurgency to illiteracy to unemployment and other health related issues and hence, suicide is accorded low priority in the competition for meager resources.
There is not an iota of doubt, that the decades old, ongoing conflict in Kashmir has taken a heavy toll on the mental health of Kashmiris. Every Kashmiri has experienced the suffocating and traumatizingevents that eventually left a long lasting impact on their mental health. There are people who lost their loved ones to this barbaric conflict and some are still unaware whether their loved ones are alive or not. This separation and helplessness has directly affected the mental capacities of the victims, which at times culminates into suicide. Women and adolescents have been the main victims of this turmoil. Not only conflict, there are also other issues that have been responsible for the increasing suicide rates in Kashmir. Unemployment, family issues, failures in examinations, relationship failures and relative deprivation are some of the notable contributors to the growing menace of suicide in Kashmir.Mental disorders and psychosocial consequences associated with conflicts include sleeplessness, fear, nervousness, anger, aggressiveness, depression, flashbacks, alcohol and substance abuse, suicide, and domestic and sexual violence. Following a traumatic event, a large proportion of thepopulation may experience nightmares, anxiety, and other stress-related symptoms, although these effectsusually decrease in intensity over time. For some, the hopelessness and helplessness associated withpersistent insecurity, statelessness and poverty will trigger ephemeral reactions such asthose mentioned above. For others, conflict experiences may lead to Post-Traumatic StressDisorder (PTSD) and chronic depression.
Despite a mountain of evidence testifying to the huge toll of suicide in our youth and the knowledge of effective interventions to prevent suicide, there remains no coordinated effort to address suicide as a public health issue in India. Suicide is a multifaceted problem and hence suicide prevention programmes should also be multidimensional. Collaboration, coordination, cooperation and commitment are needed to develop and implement a national plan, which is cost-effective, appropriate and relevant to the needs of the community. In Kashmir suicide prevention is more of a social and public health objective than a traditional exercise in the mental health sector. The time is ripe for mental health professionals to adopt proactive and leadership roles in suicide prevention and save the lives of thousands of young Kashmiris.
(Research Fellow at University of Kashmir)