Suicides surge alarmingly in Kashmir valley | Of 17,000 deaths in 21 years, 62% females: Study

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Srinagar: In an alarming revelation, a study has revealed sharp increase in suicides in Kashmir with roughly 17,000 persons taking the extreme step over the past 21 years. In the past 27 months, 227 suicides have been reported from various parts of the valley. No less than 10 suicide attempts were reported in February alone.
The comprehensive research on suicides conducted by noted sociologist at the University of Kashmir, Dr Bashir Ahmad Dabla, has revealed that 62 per cent of all the suicides in the valley involved females. Youth in the age group of 17-26 years are found to be most likely to end their life, although cases of teenagers, as young as 13-year olds, ending their life too have come to light.
According to the National Crime Bureau Records of India, Kashmir recorded a higher suicide rate than the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. It says that on an average, one person commits suicide every day in the Valley.
Suicide rates were negligible before the eruption of militancy in the valley late 1989. But, over the past 21 years of turmoil, there has been a sudden surge in the situation with researchers at the Kashmir’s sole Psychiatric Diseases Hospital indicating an increase from 0.5 deaths per 100,000 of people in 1989 to 20 per 100,000 in 2007.
In 2010, the S K Institute of Medical Sciences, Kashmir’s prestigious medical institute, recorded 248 suicides. In the next year, more than 1,000 suicides were recorded at the two premier healthcare facilities in the city – SKIMS and SMHS Hospital reflecting a four-fold increase in just one year.
However, experts believe these numbers were based on conservative estimates, as the media reports and police and hospital records did not present the real scenario of just how rampant suicides had become in Kashmir. Given the fact that Kashmir is a Muslim majority area, the grim situation assumes an immensely worrying dimension.
“The actual rate is far higher than what is being reported. Because of the social stigma and the feeling of shame attached to the act, people do not report suicide attempts or deaths,” noted psychiatrist, Dr Mushtaq Margoob, said, adding the suicide cases in rural areas more often than not went largely unreported.
“It is unfortunate that the suicide rate is higher than what we know and is steadily mounting,” Dr Margoob said, adding that 60 percent of local population suffered from one or other psychological disorder or stress at least once a while in life while 15 percent of Kashmir’s population would have to live with such stress throughout.
Before the start of militancy, he said, less than a dozen patients with psychological problems used to visit the Psychiatric Diseases Hospital here. In 1994, the annual count went up to 20,000 and it witnessed a five-fold increase with around one lakh patients visiting the facility in a year now. He said around 270 patients visited the hospital daily at present.
Dr Margoob said the use of sedatives and even narcotic substances in the valley had witnessed a sharp rise over the recent years.
Dr Dabla, whose study is yet to be made public, reveals that along with the increase in suicides had come more “ingenious” ways of ending one’s life. Earlier, he said, people would threaten their families with suicide, without actually executing the threat. They would jump out of the first floor windows or slash their hands – adopting measures that, though harmful, still left them alive.
“But now, the most deadly substances are being used for suicides.” In urban areas, hanging, jumping into rivers and consuming poison, are some of the most common methods. In villages, pesticides are used in a large number of cases to end life. Women commonly set themselves ablaze during suicide attempts.
Apart from the prevailing turmoil, the surge in suicides is attributed to the level of life-or-death desperation linked to the phenomenal rise in psychiatric disorders, which currently affects roughly 8,00,000 people across the valley.
“Impulse control disorders, psychiatric disorders, materialist lifestyles, psycho-social and socio-economic problems are some of the major causes for the increase in suicides,” said Dr Margoob, adding that depression, panic disorder and anxiety were as well linked to suicides.
Noted educationist, Dr A G Madhosh, categorizes the causes of suicides in Kashmir into social, psychological and anticipatory. “Social causes are mostly linked to family pressure, marital status, career, strained relationships and the inability to compete at social levels”.
“In urban areas, employment and education are compounding factors,” Dr Madhosh said.
“When students commit suicide after appearing in an examination, it is an anticipatory cause,” he explained.
Amongst teenagers, poor impulse control, examination stress, love affairs and parental pressures are found to be prominent reasons for suicides. Experts suggest adoption of a practical system of education, counseling and religious education for preventing suicides.
The phenomenon has not only plagued the local population in Kashmir but has as well been taking a heavy toll on Indian paramilitary forces deployed in the Valley. A recent report issued by the Defense ministry found that 780 paramilitary troopers had committed suicide since 2005, mostly by shooting themselves.
The study shows that 38.56 percent of Indian forces are schizophrenic, 14.17 percent suffer from alcoholism and 9.8 percent are struggling with depression.
Tremendous psychological stress, loneliness, short leaves and hostile conditions are stated to be major reasons for the rise in suicides amongst troops.

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