Wed. May 25th, 2022

Making Suicide Prevention a Priority in Gilgit-Baltistan

By Amir Khan Roshan

Suicide is the act of intentionally ending one’s own life. This drastic step is taken by people faced with long-lasting issues, as well as sudden traumatic experiences. Mental health, attitude of people around, absence of support, unemployment, forced marriages, blackmailing through social media, as well as chauvinism play a role in pushing people to the brink. Unfortunately, the incidence of suicidal ideation or attempts are increasingly around us. It is time for a deep retrospection and introspection, as well as a social discourse that leads to positive changes at the level of the society, household, and individuals.

While the issue under discussion today is local, the phenomena is global, as confirmed by various studies, including numerous publications of the World Health Organization (WHO). No country, no culture, no region, no religion, no gender, or no social status, is unaffected by suicides.

In Pakistan, suicide is a neglected subject, despite of there being daily reports in the news media about people taking their own lives. The issue is also prevalent in Gilgit-Baltistan. Reporting of the incidents in the media is, however, subject to social taboos. Ghizer, one of the 10 districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, has been making headlines due to reports of suicide. Many of these incidents, reported as suicide, are in reality cases of murder, some involving sexual violence. last year there were at least three cases reported in which incidents, earlier reported as suicides, were proven as homicides.

Pamir Times, quoting sources, had reported that between 2005-2015, 369 people committed suicide in district Ghizer. Aziz Ahmad and Sultan Rahim Barcha, two young researhers from the region who studied the phenomena on the ground after collecting data, highlighted that between 2000 and 2004, 49 women had committed suicide in Ghizer”. Similarly, from 1996 to 2010 more than 300 cases of suicide were recorded at various Police Station of Ghizer. The majority (73%) of women were married, 18% were single, 6% were engaged and 3% were widowed or divorced.  The issue of suicide is more alarming especially among the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan. 23 people committed suicide in Ghizer District in 2017, based on reported incidents.

There appears to be an upward trend, which is worrisome and taking a mental and psychological toll on thousands of families across the world. The social trauma of suicides has a very long-lasting effect on families, tribes, friends and the society at large.

 Despite of these alarming numbers, the society and the government has failed to make any meaningful advanced towards preventive services. Too often, people taking their own lives are stigmatized. In some cases, the individuals involved in such incidents are also romanticized, eulogized, through social media posts, reflecting a total chaos in the thought paradigm. The society and the government have, thus, failed, to not only address the issue, but they also appear to be incapable of starting any meaningful discourse around the issue.

It is hoped that the people at large, and the policymakers and changemakers in particular, will move beyond expression of worry and apprehension and taking meaningful steps through institutional efforts to not just understand and address the issue, but offer practical help to the people who express suicidal ideations.

This cannot be possible without creation of a cadre of professional mental health experts, counsellors, therapists, psychologist, and psychiatrist. I would urge young students to seriously consider career options in these subjects, because there’s an acute shortage of qualified and trained experts in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Meanwhile, the government, the state and the civil society will have to move out of their comfort zone and take some practical steps. We can’t let our youth die by suicide, unable to get any kind of help. Enough of social destruction has also been witnessed so far. Any laxity now will make complicit in willful neglect, because we all know that the issue is real and hurting families every day around us.

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