One of the many concerning issues the human race today has to deal with is depression, often leading to suicidal thoughts or suicide itself. Unfortunately, Pakistan does not treat depression as a disease, as it does many others. The air of gloom and despondency that looms over a person is seldom taken into consideration or treated. In these modern times, we lack public awareness and specialized counselors who could empower individuals and families to manage and accomplish mental health. Growing up, I have also felt an absence of wise and trusted mentors, that ought to be a prerequisite of any institution in today’s fast-paced life.
In the past few years, Gilgit Baltistan has fostered in me a strong inclination towards nature and outdoor pursuits; and fervent love for solitude and meditation, which has left evident traces in my literary career. When you feel such a deep-rooted connection with a place not only for its panoramic beauty but for the beautiful hearts that reside in the treacherous mountains, you tend to indulge in matters of utmost concern. The rising cases (most of them go unreported) of suicide among the people between the ages of 14 – 35 is alarming. Reasons amongst the youth are the failure or not performing too well academically, unable to pursue further studies to improve career prospects due to financial instability, lack of support to discuss everyday stresses, etc. Depressive and suicidal thoughts are still considered a major taboo in our society, and people feel utterly reluctant to voice their anxieties and troubles. Families are still hesitant to speak and hide or twist factors about their beloved’s death because of the stigma it causes. Every suicide that takes place has a story, and one wonders about the story of the young man or woman who fell prey to their own death. Sadly, the dead tell no tales.
The most prevalent methods are consuming poison, shooting or hanging oneself, and jumping into the river because it is accessible. Some believe it’s the river’s soothing sound; others deem it is a call from the thirsty river. Women end their lives over marital and family relationships, divorce, the prohibition in decision-making, lack of freedom, academics, and sometimes demand for a male child. On the other hand, men commonly turn to drugs and sell lands to feed their habit. When they cannot provide for their families and future looks bleak, they end up committing suicide.
It shudders me to hear cases such as students’ bodies found who jumped in the river earlier – reason being, failure in academic evaluation tests. One student and mother tried to harm themselves during a parent-teacher meeting after the teacher shared the result. An ace student who came 2nd and was mocked by his father for not scoring the 1st position. An adolescent girl committed suicide due to financial problems for her desire to get admission into an expensive educational institute that her parents couldn’t afford. An expectant mother committed suicide due to domestic violence, and the cases are endless.
Whatever may the reason be, it is about time we free ourselves from the shackles of the so-called social taboo that kill many, year after year, and determine which preventive measures should be fostered. Problems and issues related to academics, religion, identity crisis, domestic disputes, etc. will remain until we exist; we need to learn how to deal with life and failures and cope with everyday dilemmas.
As a society, we must take initiatives to motivate youth towards life through suicide prevention awareness campaigns that involve district administration, religious institutions, civil society, and the academic communities. This, however, needs to be an on-going procedure with approachable and equipped therapists and consultants who are ready to talk, discuss, and find solutions to issues when depression is in the early stages. Times have changed, and with the sudden transition where modern versus traditional conflict has impacted today’s youth, the communication gap between young people and parents/elders have increased. The social taboos are restraining them from sharing and discussing issues with the elders. The absence of space to express one’s concerns and seek guidance results in frustrations, which eventually lead them to commit suicide. Parents need to be taught about getting suicide signs. Every potential victim of suicide initially goes through suicidal thoughts, exhibiting symptoms that need to be understood and catered timely. Families must be educated on the importance of communication and lending an ear to their children’s concerns. An extensive, radical private sector and civic institution need to be established and strengthened to act on short term goals.
Hospitals and the local healthcare systems must establish proper psychiatry departments, inducting specialized psychiatrists and psychologists, build shelters for women, and creating economic opportunities for employment and women empowerment. The autopsy must be mandatory, so the authorities know exactly if it was a murder or, indeed, a suicide. More often than not, most villagers live by the law of silence because they belong to the same culture, the same clan tied by ethnicity and genealogy. The authorities rarely get to know about death before the dead person is silently buried. Therefore, public awareness programs must be held regularly. Collectively, we all need to ensure and contribute to the struggles of the multi-sectoral approach and to make the state-run policies more progressive and human friendly.