Incidence of suicide alarmingly high in South Asia: experts

M. Waqar Bhatti
Wednesday, Jul 06, 2022

The incidence of suicide is very high in South Asia, especially in Pakistan, where mentally unwell patients are taken to “fake faith-healers and shrines” for cure instead of psychiatrists and mental health specialists, experts and officials said on Monday and advised people to seek mental health support in case of depression, anxiety and having suicidal thoughts.

“In Pakistan, the incidence of suicide is very high in the arid zones of Tharparkar, Umerkot, Badin, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, District Malir in Karachi as well as in Dadu and Jamshoro. Depression has been recorded in 40 per cent of people following the pandemic, and of them 25 per cent conceded they had suicidal thoughts,” said Chairman SMHA Senator Karim Khawaja at the inauguration ceremony of a ‘Mental Health Counselling Helpline’.

He said: “The Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA) has come up with a helpline, the third in Sindh, to provide support to people with mental health issues.” The helpline, the third in the Sindh province, has been established at the Department of Psychiatry, Civil Hospital Karachi, by the SMHA in collaboration with a local NHO Charter for Compassion, and it would continue to provide mental health counselling round the clock if a person calls on 021-99215720, Senator Karim Khawaja said.

He said that following the growing number of suicides in Tharparkar and the adjoining districts as well as in the arid zones of Dadu and Jamshoro in Sindh, they launched the psychological autopsy of suicides in these areas and it emerged that a lack of basic facilities of life, loss of livelihood, absence of any recreational facilities, marginalisation and other factors were responsible for the suicides, especially among the Hindu community in Tharparkar and the adjoining districts.

He said they found out that during the pandemic, the people’s diet also reduced and they could not afford fish and meat in the areas, while the incidence of suicide was very high, which showed that people were in economic distress due to the pandemic. He added that there was a need to further probe into causes of suicides in these areas.

“What we have found out is the incidence of suicide is not only very high in Tahrparkar but the high incidence of suicides is also being reported from Indian states of Rajasthan and Gujarat. Most likely, it is linked to prolonged droughts, harsh weather and living conditions, but there is a need for more research.”

Khawaja added that two mental health counselling helplines were already functioning at Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Institute of Psychiatry in Hyderabad and the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) Karachi. He said the third helpline had been just launched at the Civil Hospital Karachi for the help of people facing mental health issues.

Chief Executive Officer Edhi Foundation Faisal Edhi deplored that instead of seeking professional help, most of people take their mentally unwell relatives to shrines and fake faith-healers, where these patients are subjected to torture, violence and even sexual harassment. He said that in many cases, such patients die due to maltreatment at these shrines and at the hands of fake faith-healers.

Faisal Edhi maintained that the incidence of suicides is very high in cities like Karachi, but due to being a criminal offence under Section 325 of the CrPC, people don’t report incidents of suicides.

“The Edhi Foundation has an agreement with Muhammad Ali Jinnah University Karachi to use our ambulances to spread awareness regarding mental health issues and we can also use the helpline numbers of the Sindh Mental Health Authority (SMHA) for the knowledge of people.”

Vice Chancellor Dow University of Health Sciences (DUHS) Prof Saeed Quraishy said the Dow University was helping the community through its two mental health departments -- the Department of Psychiatry and Dr AQ Khan Institute of Behavioural Sciences.

“Now we are going to launch BS in Psychology at Dr AQ Khan Institute of Behavioural Sciences, which would provide trained and qualified experts to deal with mental health issues in the city and province,” Prof Quraishy said and hoped the Mental Health Counselling Helpline would help in preventing suicides in the society.

Chairman Department of Psychiatry Dr Haider Ali Naqvi, President Charter for Compassion Amin Hashwani, AMS Civil Hospital Karachi Dr Ismail Memon and others also spoke.