Death over life

Published August 25, 2021

MORE distressing numbers have emerged on that most extreme repudiation of the human instinct for survival — the act of suicide. A report launched on Monday revealed that a large majority — no less than 60pc — of the suicides in Tharparkar district in 2020 were committed by individuals between 10 and 20 years of age; of these, 48pc were 16 years old or younger. The report, steered by the Sindh Mental Health Authority with technical help from some of the country’s top psychiatrists and mental health institutions, is the outcome of a ‘psychological autopsy’, which is an attempt to understand the factors leading to the act of taking one’s own life. According to the findings, based on interviews of family members, 24pc of the suicide victims were already suffering from mental illness of some kind; 36pc had exhibited suicidal ideation. Of the 33 cases analysed, women were victims in 21 and men in 12. Young people committing suicide points to parental discord, identity problems, bullying etc — problems that could have benefited from counselling, but were tragically left unresolved until too late. Another significant finding is the high ratio of female-to-male victims, quite contrary to the global pattern, which indicates the pressures that women in patriarchal societies deal with, and are sometimes defeated by.

Suicide is considered a growing problem not only in Sindh but all over the country. Between 2012 and 2016, the rate of suicide in Pakistan is estimated by WHO to have increased from 2.9 per 100,000 to 7.5 per 100,000 people. Verifiable figures are difficult to come by because the stigma surrounding the act means that completed and attempted suicides are both vastly underreported. Compounding the sociocultural hurdles in the way of compiling accurate data is the fact that taking one’s life is a criminal offence in this country. The authors of the above-mentioned report have rightly recommended that Section 325 of the PPC that criminalises suicide be abolished. That is the compassionate and forward-thinking approach required to address the problem. Mental illness, the primary underlying cause for suicide, calls for counselling and treatment. Also consider that attempted suicides greatly outnumber completed suicides. Those who survive are deserving of psychological intervention that may forestall another attempt; indeed, a prior attempt at taking one’s life is the single most important risk factor for suicide. The stress of a criminal prosecution is the last thing such individuals must be subjected to.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2021

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