Handling suicides | Pakistan Today

Handling suicides

  • We lack the capacity to deal with emotional problems

The emergence of ‘suicide’ bombing as a war tactic used by non-state actors, especially after 9/11, has perhaps attached even more notorious connotations to the act of suicide committed by people due to mental, psychological, social, emotional and other problems — with no link, even remotely, with the kind of motivation and objectives that a terrorist usually has. Yet a large number of population, actually in search of emotional and psychological support, finds it hard to earn the empathy and action from state institutions, which perhaps are too busy in cursing suicide only because a small number of extremists use it as a tool against them and society.

And although such suicide attacks rightly get the attention of the state and media owing to the catastrophic effects that they have on the people and society which also results into fear and paranoia, but that is perhaps depriving us from the discourse on the issue of rising number of suicides in general, making it limited, shallow and not proportionate to the magnitude of loss in form of human lives we are bearing.

World Health Organisation (WHO) in its 2018 report said that as many as 800,000 people commit suicide every year around the world, and is becoming one of the leading causes of death.

Let us see the abovementioned statistics this way.

Approximately 2,190 people commit suicide on each day, 90 in an hour, almost four people after a minute has passed on your clock and an individual life is lost after every 15 seconds somewhere in the world!

In Pakistan, the last comprehensive WHO report of 2012 said that about 13,337 people committed suicide (7,085 male and 6,021 female) in the given year and almost 130,000 to 270,000 people indulged in deliberate self-harm (DSH), or in other words, had attempted suicide.

Here, it can be argued that the quantitative and statistical methods to measure suicides may not be the best starting point in our effort to understand the nature of the issue. However, that is not only an instant way of realising the scale of the problem but is also useful in terms of adding the element of emergency in policy framework to be designed by the stakeholders to deal with the problem.

Moreover, these statistics discount many of such instances that go unreported, which means we are still far away from the getting a closer look of the grim situation caused by suicides and DSH instances.

A research article titled “Suicide and deliberate self-harm in Pakistan: a scoping review” notes that stigmatisation of those families in which such incidents took place may be one of the reasons why suicides remain under-reported.

For suicide prevention and emotional support, a free phone number 116 123 is designated for EU citizens looking for such assistance

A more open and public debate on suicide remains curtailed due to the silence of government institutions, which have remained hesitant and shy in taking up the issue head on, despite having the capacity to withstand the pressure of the controversies that issues such as suicide and DSH mostly generate.

How often have we seen any kind of discussion being carried out on suicide on the floor of parliament or any other governmental forum in Pakistan? Not even once!

The UK in this regard has lessons for  Pakistan as it has set example for us after taking up the issue for a public debate on impactful forums.

In November 2015, UK’s parliament discussed the rising suicide rate among the male population on the International Men’s Day when a suicide prevention group, Campaign Against Living Miserably, pressured the legislators to break the ice.

Successive UK governments have remained engaged in strategising plans to prevent increasing suicides.

For instance, in 2012, the coalition government issued a detailed publication named “Preventing Suicide in England” which was then thoroughly examined by UK Parliament’s Health Select Committee, which in turn gave recommendations to the government and non-govrnment bodies for improvements in policies.

Throughout the European Union, a “harmonised service of social value” exists, which is a free phone facility dedicated for the citizens regarding their well-being or safety. The prefix ‘116’ is reserved for this purpose, followed by other numbers depending on varying services.

For suicide prevention and emotional support, a free phone number 116 123 is designated for EU citizens looking for such assistance. A 24/7 helpline service for those facing suicidal ideations approach various government or non-governmental bodies which are part of the integrated mental health system.

On the contrary, there are not plenty of platforms where a Pakistani can reach when confronted with suicidal thoughts, albeit a 24/7 helpline- the proof of which can be confirmed by the readers after searching for one on Google.

This seems like a testimony to the fact that we, as a nation, are not only shy to discuss this problem but are also criminally negligent in understanding the state of mind and milieu that surrounds each and every instance of suicide.

“Each victim of suicide gives his/her act a personal stamp which expresses individual’s temperament, the special conditions in which he/she is involved, and which consequently cannot be explained by the social and general causes of the phenomenon,” Emile Durkheim, a 19th century sociologist and author of the famous book “Suicide” said.

Not only do we lack the infrastructure for the emergency care and long-term rehabilitation of people dealing with emotional problems, a more open and public debate on reviewing laws, such as Section 325 of Pakistan Penal Code which deals with the punishment for self-harm and attempted suicide, it is also a matter of concern how we have not even started the discussion over the merits and demerits of the children being taught the concept of suicide and DSH among many others, of course!