Tue. Jul 5th, 2022

Combating Suicides in Gilgit-Baltistan: Now, or Never!

Sharif Ullah Baig | Faculty Member, AKU-IED (PDCN)

The upsurge of suicides in Gilgit-Baltistan can be traced back to mid 1990s. Our decade-long experiences have established that it has periodically stormed the region in the form of waves with erratic intensity in different times in different geographic entities.

Our history of mitigation and prevention amid each wave comprised of showing our concerns in the form of media articles, arranging seminars, awareness campaigns, criticizing each other and reinventing the wheel by commissioning new research to explore the causes. When the storm cools down a bit, because of the natural process, we are back to the normal waiting for the next wave.

The statistical data of the rate of suicide in the region proves the appalling failure of our traditional mitigation and prevention approaches. In 2009, Khan, Ahmed & Khan calculated female suicide rate as 61.07/100,000 per year for 15-24 years in a region of Gilgit-Baltistan.  After a period of 10 years, Abbasi, (2021) reported the Crime Statistics in Pakistan, shared by the National Police Bureau, for the period of 2016 to 2020. He stated that Gilgit-Baltistan and KP had reported 62 percent of suicide cases which is the highest percentage in the country for the last five years. The research studies carried out so far in Gilgit-Baltistan have reported the overt causes such as burdens of modernization, growing materialism, sense of status-comparison social competition, widening gap between age old tradition and modern demands, academic pressure, divorce, financial constraints, and relational problems. However, the researchers could not explore the covert grounds because of their methodological limitations.

The electronic and print media, and local seminars are overloaded with articles, mostly attributing this tendency to the natural process of hasty modernization; swiftly bulldozing the old structures and orders at a very fast pace not sparing a time for the society to develop new structures to replace the generations old social scaffoldings. As a result, the society has been abruptly thrown into a fast-paced transition phase where old structures have been crashed and new replacements are yet to be conceived.

Today, our society is positioned at a critical junction where we cannot afford to leave the challenge alone, deeming it as part of the natural process of modernization. At the same time, we can also not afford to indulge in prolonged philosophical underpinnings and explorations in and around the concept which we have been doing for the last two decades.  The local knowledge and wisdom and local socio-economic dynamics must be trusted and a multisectoral concrete intervention is the need of the hour. A context-based government or non-government organization must take the responsibility to lead the intervention and develop synergies across different sectors to converge their energies to combat this persistent and mounting social challenge.   

The overall goal of our future intervention must help the younger generation to acquire the irrevocable traits of perseverance, endurance, commitment, mental toughness, and multi-directional thinking to confidently face the challenges of life and be able to successfully adjust in this emerging socio-economic order.

A comprehensive, integrated, and unified multi-sectoral intervention, including advocacy for public policy and strengthening local level institutions, revamping the health system, remodeling the child nurturing methods and parenting education, transforming the schooling processes and youth mobilization is imperative for combating this emergency in Gilgit-Baltistan.

An advocacy campaign must be launched for reiterating and strengthening the existing community empowerment and facilitation related public policies promulgated by the provincial government so that the government functionaries such as police department, population welfare department, health department and other community related agencies can legally take a facilitating and contributing role in the intervention. In this way, the local level institutions can be strengthened and ensured their proactive and confident role in close coordination with government functionaries to spread positive vibes in the society and be instrumental in resolving domestic small-scale issues ranging from homes to the wider vicinity.    

An organized parent education program must be started to help the parents unlearn the misconceptions about child nurturing, and learn the knowledge of the transformation of the society and the emerging demands for young generation. It is also important to help the parents learn the art of understanding the personality of the child and the strengths, limitations, and opportunities for his/her progress. Parents must have the ability to help their children to be goal oriented but flexible enough to navigate through life challenges.  Above all, parents must be able to create a conducive, peaceful, and positive home environment which is the cornerstone of child nurturing. This critical role of parent starts at the very beginning of early childhood and goes on to the adolescent age.

The prime responsibility of school is not only to help the children in academic achievements but also to nurture balanced personalities fully equipped with skills and determination to successfully cope with life challenges and be the contributing citizens of the society. For the last two to three decades the word “holistic development” remained a popular slogan around which schools were able to launch their marketing campaigns in this context. However, the data about youth and their challenges such as suicide tendencies are concluding that we had performed very low in terms of the “holistic development of the children”. 

Youth is the most vulnerable and susceptible section of the society in terms of suicide incidents in the region. The data suggests that the suicide tendencies are predominately found in youth therefore, their active involvement in this intervention is extremely important.  The youth must be provided platforms to interact and share their ideas with each other and with their older generation which will help them to learn from the experiences of each other. Secondly, it is a youth problem therefore, their perceptions and perspectives on suicide tendencies can be highly valuable to combat this challenge. In addition, youth must be provided leadership roles to reflect on their own problems, suggest remedial actions and take lead role in combating suicide tendencies in the region.   

As a developing country we cannot expect ideal health facilities in each of the remote villages. However, we can develop synergies among available systems that are active for provision of health facilities for the population. Region-based centralized mechanism, including all available health provision agencies, especially for mental health can be constructed so that swift and maximum advantages can be taken from the available systems. These health providing systems must have strong linkages with schools and parent community so that they play their active role for guiding the schools and parent community to handle mental health issues.  

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