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The alarming rise of suicide rates in Pakistan

The alarming rise of suicide rates in Pakistan


Trigger warning: The following article contains mention of Suicide and Self Harm

The word suicide is only mentioned in hushed whispers behind closed doors in our society.

When someone even utters the seven lettered word, they’re met with a judgemental glare that quietens them. So are we really surprised that suicide rates are climbing in Pakistan, especially when we force people to suffer in isolation and silence?

How does one even talk openly in such a controlling society?

And there is that one phrase we always hear, “yeh tou gunnah hai na.” How do you fix a problem if you can’t even talk about it?

The stigmatisation of suicide has led to the development of a social issue that most of us have no knowledge on. Even the government shies away from dealing with it properly because no one will actually talk about it. We need to put aside the log kya kehtay hein mentality in an effort to really understand the gravity of this escalating situation.

How much have suicide rates risen?

Although official statistics are hard to procure and often unreliable, there is increasing evidence that suggests a rise in suicide rates within Pakistan. A WHO report estimated that Pakistan had a rate of 7.5 per 100,00 people in 2012, which means there was an increase of 2.6% since 2000.

You might be thinking that these statistics are a little dated, but doctors consistently report that they are seeing an increase in such cases. WHO also estimates that for every suicide, there are around 10-20 acts of deliberate self-harm. If these facts alone aren’t alarming enough, numerous independent studies have also noticed a rise in suicide rates across various areas within the country.

These statistics might paint a grim picture but most people forgot how prevalent suicidal thoughts are.

Let me tell you about Aasia, the 21-year-old who barely survived after ingesting rat poison, or maybe you want to hear about Kamran, a young boy from Takht Bhai who recently took his own life. Or wait, let’s talk about Roushan Farrukh. A young girl who jumped off from a multi-story building in front of her peers and was subsequently refused treatment at a hospital because it was a case of attempted suicide. She later succumbed to her injuries at a second hospital. 

These are just three names in a sea of ever-increasing stories.

If we want to actively engage in suicide prevention it is necessary that we understand how our society has failed to provide support and understanding.

Why are suicide rates rising in Pakistan?

Suicide rates are rising because we treat suicidal thoughts as a crime, intern discouraging people from sharing their thoughts or seeking treatment. Criminalizing suicide only serves to farther increases the stigmatization, while also affecting efforts to save those who might be at risk. As a society, we aren’t just refusing to talk about the mental health issues that people have but when they manifest as cases of attempted suicide, we only end up creating legal complications for them instead of providing them with much needed help.

Dr. Murad Moosa Khan, President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) and Professor at the Department of Psychiatry in Agha Khan University shares:

“Nearly 15-20 percent adults and 10 percent children in Pakistan have some form of mental disorders. Some studies quote an even alarming number of 34 percent,”

When so many Pakistanis are affected by mental health problems, why is it that we continue to make victims feel helpless in their loneliness and despair?

People are unable to talk about the problems they face because our community has no safe space for them and constantly insists on reminding them that the thoughts in their head are nothing but shameful. In doing so, we not only drive people towards the idea that what they are facing is not normal, but we also intensify any suicidal thoughts they might be having.

Suicide prevention will only be possible if we first acknowledge mental health issues and realize that the way forward is to provide support and understanding instead of strict reprimands and reminders of sin.

Who is at most at risk?

Globally the suicide rates for men are higher than women. While this stands true for some areas in Pakistan, various studies have found that the most at-risk demographic within the country are married females.

This might be a result of the strict patriarchal norms and traditions that often confine women with little to no independence. Associated factors include early age of marriage, lack of autonomy in choice of male partner, pressure to have children early in the marriage, desire for a male offspring, curtailment of education, economic dependence on husband, joint or extended family system and domestic violence.

On the other hand, when it comes to men, lack of employment and financial hardships are often cited as the leading cause behind suicidal behavior.

Another major demographic often defined at high risk for suicide are students. When students face high expectations and increased pressure to achieve the perfect results, various studies noted that suicides are often triggered by bad results in exams.

All these scenarios are prevalent among our society and can often be hard to eradicate, but what they have in common are high levels of stress faced by individuals and a lacking support system.

Can we do anything about this?

The most important thing here is perhaps empathy and a willingness to try and understand those that might be struggling to live despite all that they seem to have in life.

We need to understand the importance of mental health better and realize that it must be treated in a manner similar to physical health. Have you ever gone around calling people ungrateful for asthma? Does your distant relative ever call cancer patients shameful? Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts not only needs your support and understanding but also a community where seeking professional help isn’t stigmatised.

We need to forge a society that has the willingness to build support systems in for people who are suffering in silence. Otherwise, the suicide rates in our country will keep on increasing as long as we continue our practice of ignorance and hate.

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