DATA gathered by the Sindh Mental Health Authority over the last five years reveals that the largest number of suicides in the province occur in Thar, followed by Mirpurkhas district. According to the SMHA, a total of 767 suicides were reported in the province over the last five years. Out of them, 79 were reported from Thar while 70 were reported from Mirpurkhas. These findings were shared at a seminar in Karachi on Thursday. Speakers agreed that though the SMHA figures may provide a vague idea of the prevailing trends, the actual number of suicides in the province is much higher than reported. There could be several reasons for this: first, SMHA officials gathered data only from the district health offices and the police department, and missed those reported at private hospitals and facilities. Besides, they did not even conduct a cursory survey of suicides reported in the media. Second, apart from being a taboo subject, suicide is also illegal in Pakistan. Most families are reluctant to report it for fear of social stigma. In fact, the DIG Administration, who represented the provincial police department at the event, called the findings “unrealistic”, stating that the actual rate of suicide was far higher, including in Mirpurkhas district where he had been posted for several years.
It is sad that neither the government nor the public acknowledges mental health issues in society, let alone discusses treatment. Even if steps are taken, they are ad hoc and ineffective, and fall short of producing any lasting change. The SMHA study, unfortunately, reflects the same structural problem. Though the suggestions that emerged in the discussion, including the training of health workers to spot mental illnesses, access to psychological counselling and psychiatric treatment and training police officials to track suicide cases, are sound, they can only be acted upon once the true extent of the problem is known. For that, SMHA officials will have to carry out a detailed district-wise study of the number of suicides and their apparent causes.
Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2021