“Yaqoob shot himself dead with a pistol at his home after his father, Kaleem, scolded him for not taking interest in his studies,” reads a report on the National pages of today’s newspaper.
It goes on to add: “Mr Kaleem told police that his son was unwilling to go to school due to bullying by his class teacher. He said that he would also scold Mr Yaqoob whenever he resisted going to school. Frustrated with the harsh attitude of his father and teacher, Mr Yaqoob went home and shot himself dead with a pistol.”
Fourteen-year-old Yaqoob was the fifth such teenage student to take his life within the span of two weeks.
Teenage is the best of times and also the worst. It is the age of innocence mixed with a little foolishness. On the threshold of a carefree childhood and a wiser adult life, the world is their oyster, when nothing seems impossible as they strive to reach for the sky.
So when one hears of five young teenagers committing suicide in such quick succession, one cannot help but wonder what happened to a life of fun and frolic snuffed so callously.
Eighteen-year-old Khursheed studying at Islamabad Model College for Boys shot himself with his father’s pistol when his father scolded him for refusing to take an entry test; 17–year-old Shan from Gharibabad swallowed poison after his parents attempted to stop him from spending time with friends and not concentrating on studies; seventh-grader Abdul Mobin in Abbottabad who took his life because of torture at school and a 13-year-old student in Karachi hanged himself by the ceiling fan after he failed in exams.
Why would young people get so bored with life just as they enter its most exciting phase?
“If they don’t have the right balance of opportunities, resources and hope, they can get ‘bored’ and hopeless,” explains Dr Murad Musa Khan, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi.
Perturbed by the recent suicides, Khan says there is every reason for concern because “even one suicide is one too many”. He sees “lots” of young people, some even as young as 12, who have attempted suicide because of “academic pressures, relationship problems, identity problems, parental discord, use of drugs, bullying (including cyber-bullying)”. In addition, there are many, he says, who suffer from low self-confidence and low self-esteem.
However, Karachi-based clinical psychologist, Dr Asha Bedar, does not believe child or teen suicide is a result of boredom. “It’s usually about either mental illness (e.g., depression) or emotional disturbance caused by circumstances.”
While many adults associate childhood/teenage with fun and a carefree outlook towards life, Bedar points out: “unfortunately, that is not the case for many children and young people around us.”
Like adults, she says, many children and young people suffer from mental illness, such as depression (often undiagnosed and therefore untreated in a country like Pakistan) and extreme emotional distress or disturbance caused by circumstances around them.” During her practice, she sees many young people who have attempted but “even more who have thought about suicide”.
Bedar emphasises that other than a mental illness, abuse has been one of the most common issues which many young people, who come to her, have suffered from. “This could be exposure to severe violence at home - perhaps a home environment characterised by tight parental control, terror and sadness. Or it could be ongoing exposure to severe physical violence/bullying outside the home, sexual abuse (including rape), cyber-bullying, blackmailing.”
The reasons why young people (aged anywhere 14 to 24), or even younger, commit or attempt suicide, are multiple says Khan. Usually, however, a combination of “life stresses and a vulnerable personality” veering the person towards depression, with “hopelessness” as a predominant feeling, leads on to suicidal behaviour.
According to the independent 2012 annual report of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), poverty and an uncertain future are turning teenage girls in Karachi to end their lives.
Citing the National Poison Control Centre, at Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre, in Karachi, HRCP’s annual report for 2011, reported that there were 1,153 attempted suicides across Pakistan and 2,131 suicides in 2011 with five or six teenagers attempting suicide every day in Karachi. Of these, 60 per cent are teenage girls and families are reluctant to register the case as attempted suicide.
In 2002, the World Health Organization estimated that over 15,000 suicides were committed in Pakistan, but Khan estimates it to be “probably about 5,000 to 7,000 suicides” annually. In addition, he says, there are approximately 50,000 to 150,000 cases of attempted suicides. The majority of suicides and attempted suicides are in people under the age of 30 years.