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Girls are under more stress all over the world including Pakistan and making a suicide attempt is a sign of extreme , experts say. - Photo by AFP
Girls are under more stress all over the world including Pakistan and making a suicide attempt is a sign of extreme distress, experts say. - Photo by AFP

“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.

Of these, he says, approximately 25 per cent of the cases would be in the teens. “These figures are the best estimate one can ascertain from all the studies on suicide that are available,” Khan tells

In almost all settings all over the world, including Pakistan, says Musa, more girls than boys attempt suicide but more boys commit suicide than girls.

“Generally speaking girls are under more stress all over the world including Pakistan and making a suicide attempt is a sign of extreme stress/distress,” he says.

But why are young people in Pakistan so troubled?

Musa has no qualms about putting the blame squarely on the adults. “Because the elders have failed to provide the young with a safe and secure environment for them to live and prosper under,” he says, adding: “Just drive around on a Sunday and see the number of young boys playing cricket on the roads or dirty grounds. Why can’t proper grounds and equipment be provided to these young men?” He thinks the issue of suicides is both a human rights one and a fundamental rights one.

Dr Shifa Naeem, a Karachi-based psychiatrist, believes today’s teenagers “are exposed to many more stresses” than their counterparts were a generation or two back.

“Expectations are higher from them, while support systems are weaker,” she says explaining the scenario by taking two imaginary profiles of a teenager from the 1960s and one of today.

“The young teenager from the 1960s was spending some time of the day in physical exercise (as it used to be mandatory); he or she would have good chances of having an involved and committed teacher who’d also be a mentor. In addition, parents, too, were spending more time with them and life was generally simpler.” On the other hand, Naeem points out, the teenager of today is “expected to excel in studies and studying at a school which the parents can feel ‘proud’ of, should also look cool and be popular with all the kids at school, should have more friends on Facebook than the rest, have a glamorous life-style (similar to the one he or she sees on the TV and which includes marijuana, cigarettes and alcohol).”

That is not all. “A poor law-and-order situation and the helplessness and a sense of hopelessness prompted by injustices and 'might is right' – they all add up,” she concludes.

Bedar is of the view that while children are “typically resilient” and get over a difficult period; professional help must be sought for mental illness.

“One isolated incident does not cause a child to contemplate or attempt suicide - it is usually an ongoing chronic situation (for instance, abuse/violence at home or at school, debilitating poverty, etc.), something that makes the child feel completely helpless, fearful and trapped like there is no way out and no hope. One incident can, however, be a trigger, pushing a child/teenager over the edge, serving as the final straw,” she explains.

The more worrisome factor is that while some get “cured” so to say, many attempt and re-attempt and eventually succeed in killing themselves.

“The chances of a person re-attempting increase greatly after one attempt as the person crosses a certain threshold and the fear of the attempt is decreased,” says Khan, adding that he/she finds it easier to attempt it again.

“In many cases, the underlying psychological stressor is not addressed, though medical treatment is given (stomach washout, antidotes, among others). Each suicide attempter, he says, must undergo a psychological evaluation and the underlying psychological problem must be addressed.

Khan also emphasises that the way media reports the issue has a major impact on suicide attempts and suicide rates. “If it is glamorised and portrayed in such a way that it sounds that suicide is an acceptable way of dealing with life’s problems than it gives encouragement to other vulnerable people who may be in the same situation as the one who has committed suicide.”

Therefore, he adds, it is important for the media to also report that suicide is not the way to deal with life’s problems, that there are other healthy ways to deal with problems and to give names and contact details of where people in suicidal crisis situations can seek help.” There is a 24-hour psychiatrist available at the AKUH for any emergency including suicidal emergency, he says.

In addition, recently the Aman Telehealth has started a 24-hour telephone hotline where trained counsellors can help people in distress. The number is 111-113 737.

“Our counselling is both medical and psychological,” says Jennifer Younas, working at Aman Telehealth. Started just six months back the response has been tremendous. However, she says not many people know that they provide life-saving help for suicidal emergencies. “You can say for every 100 general calls (including seeking counselling for chronic diseases like blood pressure, heart problems to psychological disorders including schizophrenia, depression anxiety etc, we get two cases where help is sought for suicide,” Younas points out.

Comments (45) Closed

Sam Jun 08, 2012 02:33pm
Bi-Polar is missed to discuss here. In Pakistan many suffers from this mental disorder. I wonder this psychological disorder is not see as a problem. Thanks, S
hrtbrk Jun 08, 2012 02:42pm
No, it means there are problems like this in every country of the world including Pakistan.
Vijay Jun 08, 2012 03:03pm
Parents everywhere, not only in Pakistan, need to reduce the stress upon themselves and their children. It is good to get A's in studies and all that, but millions don't get A's and still do well in life. I think parents as well as teens need to take a deep breath before embarking on anything destructive. As someone said it so beautifully: 'sucide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.' God bless
NightHawk Jun 08, 2012 04:15pm
"Religious Fundamentalists" are not saying anything. Stop making things up, and stick to point.
dhiraj garg Jun 08, 2012 03:22pm
I totally agree with Dr. Shifa Naeem as mentioned in the article. It is a combination of factors - personal, society, religiously and nationally as a whole. Besides this, Due to colonisation, this education system has become totally worthless and to top of all EducationLess. Knowledge is now being regarded as education. A simple piece of paper has now become more important to decide your life than you yourself. This education system is meant to produce slaves and those who could not change their mentality to slavery face huge resistance from their teachers, parents, friends and society as a whole. it is this constant state of fight with outside and inside that drives the person. if he is emotionally tough enough, he takes it as a challenge to his advantage whereas if he is not, then he surrenders to it and suicide is just the end of that struggle with self. A whole overhaul in the education system, within society is required and is the need of the hour.
aarmaan Jun 08, 2012 04:06pm
the major problem is corruption and no equal rights for citizens. thats all i have to say. em engr. from one of the top uni of pakistan but still jobless because of the corrupt puppet govt. but their days are numbered.
Concerned Netizen Jun 08, 2012 01:38pm
So you mean there is no problem in Pakistan?
sahba Jun 08, 2012 10:07pm
The root cause is lack of communication between parents and teenagers.Sometimes the kids are going through mixed emotions and the fear to discuss issues with adults or peers.Anyone with emotional imbalances can take such drastic steps.I tell my kids "if you have dome something wrong do not hide it, maybe i will yell at you but admit you made a mistake then i will stop and listen." As parents we too should admit our mistakes for making issues out of little things.
Nadir Siddiqui Jun 08, 2012 08:38pm
Is it fair to compare a soldier to a civilian? A soldier kills, sees death, and horrors that no one should. Sometimes he lives with the guilt of blood on his hands and a loss of purpose in what he did, and when he comes back home he may have trouble adjusting to a normal life. A soldier has some very grim issues. Basically the issues of Pakistani kids reminded you of the issues of battle-worn killing machines. That means the Pakistani environment must be pretty bad indeed.
Deep Abyss Jun 08, 2012 08:26pm
Agreed. It must also be highlighted that so many successful people in the government today are uneducated. As one of the politicians said "Degree degree hotee hai, asli ya jali". I'm not saying corruption should be a mean of getting to the top but so many people are just generally smart street and thats what gets them through.
Shahid Jun 08, 2012 06:57pm
Teenage years are difficult years, there is lot that is happening in their minds. You can't expect them to figure everything out on their own. What they need is a safe way to vent their feelings and frustrations. This is where parents need to step in, remove communication barriers with their children and be more involved in their children's lives.
Obaid Jun 08, 2012 06:56pm
My friend, there teenagers have'nt returned from war. There is no comparison. And Pakistan IS going from Bad to worse. A lot of soldiers carry on with normal lives ,since they receive couseling and therapy. No such support system exists in pakistan for these teenagers. Pakistani society has huge problems and diminishing their importance or turning a blind eye all together will not help anyone.
Prakash Pancholi Jun 08, 2012 05:30pm
Youth is future of Tomorrow,
AHA Jun 08, 2012 05:30pm
"Religious Fundamentalists" are of course not saying anything. They would not even know what the issue.
Prakash Pancholi Jun 08, 2012 05:15pm
Youth is future of Tomorrow, Parents; Plz see the sign such as lack of Motivaton. sleep irregularities, weight disorder, lack of excercise, make sport, music as your religion. Always apreciate little achievements, any age can undergo Depression, but it is like common cold and medically treatable
A Khan Jun 08, 2012 01:18pm
Sara Khan, what do you mean by religious fundamentalist? Let me clear please: Extreme is not good in anything and any shape...... If people of Pakistan stick to their slogan: Pakistan ka matlab Kia........ So, please stop talking like disbelievers now. A. Khan Karachi
Anwar Ali shah Jun 08, 2012 10:48am
The root of every evil is economic inequalities. The parental pressure on their teen age children to push for the professional colleges and institutes is a kind of future insurance, which unleash the academic pressure on the teenagers, but they are unable to face the cut throat competition within the society without proper facilities. This is the common reason for the teenagers to go for suicidal solutions for their unfettered pressure...
Abdul Mannan Jun 08, 2012 10:39am
@Sara Khan: What is the problem with religion? As a Muslim my religion keeps me going. I believe there is Allah and he is listening to my problems. If I am in trouble it is a test for me and I should be successful in test. A Muslim can NEVER lose hope. Secondly there are problems in the whole world. Africans countries are even poorer than Pakistan but the students dont commit suidcides there. I think our whole society , media as well as parents are responsible to this problem. If you dont bring up your children and give them trust , hope and stand by them then you cannot expect them to behave as you like.
sara khan Jun 08, 2012 10:01am
Obviously religious fundamentalists will say its lack of religion, but the government should understand that the society pressures teens and young people alot with studies, relationship problems , identity drugs and above all, life is not so good in Pakistan either.
NSC Jun 09, 2012 05:33pm
Agreed! I mean my mom pressurized me to the point I actually did attempt suicide..but my grandparents saved me LITERALLY and I am so grateful to them because they give me more freedom and don't pressurize me as much.
bkt Jun 11, 2012 09:49am
Agreed Sabha. And parents become more religious or conservative suddenly so that their kids get confused as to expectations
vinodkothari Jun 11, 2012 09:31am
My heart goes out to these parents. At times we feel frustrated with our children for one reason or the other. We as parents must adopt what they call as "tough love" policy. We need to be firm with erring children, at the same time we must tell them as parents we love them. Children are our future and our love.
Yawar Kazmi Jun 11, 2012 07:11pm
write few lines on drone attacks also .as it has killed more innocent ppl ..including new born children/young-old men and women..
Hamza Jun 11, 2012 10:40pm
Why is it surprising?
Rizwan Jun 11, 2012 10:00pm
Ask a "religious fundamentalist" about this issue and see for yourself what he/she says. Someone in the comments nailed it: " they'll never read the Quran or Hadith- theyll ask their Shaikh". Majority of our present day social problems arise from religious intolerance and misconceptions; of course people will bring it up when talking about such an issue.
Ali AA Jun 08, 2012 07:47pm
“If it is glamorised and portrayed in such a way that it sounds that suicide is an acceptable way of dealing with life’s problems"- Very rightly said. Media needs to take lessons on Ethics.
bkt Jun 11, 2012 10:00am
Although grown with kids and our own lives I still get flak from my parents: 'So and so is doing so well and doing this or that'. But who cares? We have to like our own lives and learn to be happy with that. I'm happy - Pakistan is a good place, bt society is as messed up now as before. Whats changed is that people now get knowledge 2nd hand from TV or TV shows. They dont read it on their own, not making the effort. They hear what others say and dont bother to think for themselves. Its the same with their religious practice - they'll never read the Quran or Hadith- theyll ask their Shaikh. This kind of approach is lazy and adds to the pressures of life because everything is based on hearsay and no one bothers to find if something is this way or not. People domnt want to think for themselves - they want others to think for them
Wasi Jun 13, 2012 07:48pm
Allahumma in-knee a'oozubika min al humm me wa al hazni wa min al ajzi wa al kasli wa min al ghalibatir rijaal. When people are in a dire state of mind they ask WHERE IS GOD NOW. I have asked that question many a time and Allah answers it in the Qura'an: when they ask where is Allah tell them: fa ujeebu un-knee qareeb (tell them he is near). When in this state of mind its important to talk to someone. So please advise the bored young people to talk to someone who has sense. Allah's nabi's sunnah says when a child is young love them and play with them (ages 1-3) when they grow older, young adults (teens) befriend them.
Cyrus Howell Jun 08, 2012 08:48am
It has been my experience that many people who commit suicides, like throwing themselves in front of a train don't know they are going to do it. If they stood on a train platform deciding this they would probably just go home. It is a spur of the moment decision.
El Cid Jun 08, 2012 01:05pm
If all this is true and Pakistan is a 'bad' place, why are the best equipped, best fed, with excellent environment, good fortune and future to look forward to...US soldiers are committing suicide and killing their own family kin? More of them are killing themselves at home than are being killed by the Taliban in the battlefield.
@rafitoor Jun 08, 2012 11:57am
The mindless pursuit of the sources needed to support a lavish lifestyle, glamorized by our "azaad" media, has badly strained the lives of the people in these times. The adults have no longer the time to provide an emotional support to the teens which is critically needed in this phase of life. The world outside the home is indifferent. The sheer size of the drug business in Pakistan should be an indicator of how terribly wrong the things have gone. The government should not only deal with the drug peddlers who are responsible for teen age suicides and a whole range of other crimes
El Cid Jun 08, 2012 02:22pm
No. Where did I say that?
Deep Abyss Jun 08, 2012 12:27pm
I myself am a teenager and living abroad I realise what these teenagers go through and I feel horrible for them. The other day I was watching Hassan Nisar on a talk show and he pointed out that "a growing population is in itself enough to destruct a country, Pakistan has so many other problems on top of that". They say you have to work harder when youre abroad but in reality there's such little opportunities in pakistan. Cut-throat competition indeed. Desi parents view it very simple to get straight A's but they haven't been in our place and they still live in their world of the 70s. They really need to pull their heads out of their.. you know.
umair ahmad Jun 08, 2012 02:10pm
@ Sara khan thats the fruits of Moderation. dnt blame to Religious group. @ general society is responsible for this. but who will accept? umair ahmad
Khan Jun 08, 2012 08:37am
It is not surprising there is a rise in suicides. It is a sign of a generally sick society that is filled with corruption and hypocrisy. Until people in Pakistan acknowledge the failing in their society and make a ernest effort to address these failings there is no chance of any improvement.
Hassan Jun 08, 2012 08:58am
Why do suicides are to be related with education and teachers?...Apparently, alarming rise to be for education sector. Couldn't find any accountability for Government associated teachers who lead to such suicidal circumstances.
Ahmedi Jun 09, 2012 03:51am
How can you equate a teenage suicide to an adult, and on top of that one who have to face the "Adult" reality of a messed up world. You talk of Taliban as if they are not your problem, someone is paying a price fighting the monster this country helped nourished and continue to do so, and don't talk of Zia's days and CIA, that was eon ago and Pakistan still had a hand on these so call Mujahedeen those days. Anyhow, excellent article, Teenage suicide is an unfortunate thing and occurs in every culture and everything should be done to not let it happen.
Muneeb Jun 09, 2012 04:09am
Very disappointing
sara Jun 11, 2012 03:25pm
i myself is a teenager and i know with what stress and tyrincal situations a teen can go through but i also think if you have a strong faith in ALLAH then you can really overcome your sadness and depress situation.I totally agree with what's written and yes sometimes it really become essential to go for counselling,as in my case.But on the other end,the person suffering also has to make some desicion on his/her part that whether he/she really want to get out from this situation of his/her or continues to be in "life baikar hai and sukkoon nhi hai"situation.
Mushtaq Ahmed Jun 09, 2012 05:09am
It is their parent generation that is actually killing these teens. With mega level of corruption continuing for decades and now surfacing like a demon head, someone has to bear the brunt. This generation has killed merit, institutions, environment, and any hope for new generation. This generation kills the most valuable asset of youth that is their spirit.
Mirza Ghalib Jun 09, 2012 07:47am
LIBERAL EXTREMISTS want to accuse religious counterparts at every stage. Why you liberals have no tolerance, patience and acceptance for those who differ?
Dilawar Jun 09, 2012 11:31pm
are you really a teenager?
bkt Jun 11, 2012 09:46am
I dont agree that economic inequalities is the root of all problems. The problem here is that young people are being expected to achieve goals that are most inflated and unrealistic. It was so when I was a teenager also. But at that time parents did not speak to other parents/people all the time like happens now with personal mobile phone. Phone calls were expensive so people didnt communicate rubbish to each other as often. When I was a teenager the presures were too great until I looked into these stories and found that in more than half the instances the stories were unrealistic or that underhand means were employed. Somebody with an MA got a great job - reality was that they had a BA and connections got them a job. Once I got the true story, I calmed down. We need counselling of both young people and of their parents who are as unrealistic as they used to be
Talha Jun 11, 2012 05:42am
Its shocking to see how easy it was for the above teenagers to get acceass to pistol of their fathers!!!!! If they can shoot themeselves, they can shoot someone else too. Things used to be even harder in schools before and students used to respect their teaches even more. Therefore you cannot blame schools and teachers for the increase in suicides.
Khizz Jun 12, 2012 03:33am
Our society has changed to a greater extent as compared to the ones a generation or two back. We are still in transitional phase of this change. Naturally we pick glamor part the quickest and it requires lot of resources to adopt to that. But the upbringing practice the young is becoming worse as our social circus is evolving in a matter we don't know. Parents now a days are so busy that they don't have time and they put material things as an alternative to themselves, not giving proper attention to their children. We need to change ourselves first to change the mindset of the young generation. They need a healthy environment to grow which is becoming rare. But it's not difficult to attain this. We all need to believe in ourselves that we can do it.