Mental health dilemma

Published November 15, 2022

THE findings of a recent study concerning the high prevalence of suicide cases in Gilgit-Baltistan present a worrying picture of this remote and ruggedly beautiful land. Clearly, there is a mental health crisis of considerable proportions in the region that is not being adequately addressed. According to the Prevention of Suicides in Gilgit Baltistan: an integrated multisectoral strategy and roadmap for implementation study, details of which were published in this paper on Monday, the number of reported suicide cases this year so far are twice as high as last year’s numbers. The study uncovers a number of disturbing realities, such as the fact that the vast majority of suicide cases (79pc) are young people or those who are in early middle age, and that cases are almost equally divided between men and women. Ghizer district reported the highest number of cases. According to the report, a number of factors are driving many young people towards taking this extreme step. These include an intergenerational communication gap, academic pressure and lack of job opportunities. A study conducted by the University of Peshawar focusing on Chitral highlighted many of the same factors behind suicide. But perhaps what is most alarming is the fact that the actual numbers for suicide cases and attempts in GB may be much higher, due to the societal stigma attached with reporting this act of self-harm.

This mental health emergency in GB needs to be addressed with seriousness by the state. It has been recommended that police, health and education departments increase coordination, while community-based mental medical health services are also required. Furthermore, life skills and “hope-building curriculum” need to be taught in the region’s educational institutions. Admittedly, the challenge is considerable, as even in Pakistan’s more developed areas mental health is poorly understood and hardly a priority of the state. But vulnerable people in GB, Chitral and all other areas reporting high rates of suicide need to be provided the help they need to prevent them from taking this extreme step.

Published in Dawn, November 15th, 2022

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