December 16, 2018

Understanding the complicated subject and dealing with it


We at The News on Sunday have avoided attempting this Special Report for too long. It may have had to do with some ambiguity about this "truly serious philosophical problem" -- suicide is definitely one subject that has tickled human imagination like none other. Yet it has many more dimensions in a society like ours that merit serious discussion.

It is the everyday reporting of suicide incidents in the media that draws attention to its prevalence. Beyond that, there is complete silence. There are no reliable statistics available on suicide; the picture is really blurry in rural Pakistan. But whatever little research we have done shows it is directly linked with mental health issues. There are of course very few impulsive suicides but that’s not what the general trend shows.

While all mental health problems are stigmatised in this country, the disgrace people feel about suicide is unmatched. It doesn’t help then that mental health is accorded such low priority in successive governments’ scheme of things, where the number of psychiatrists is abysmally low. There is a general lack of awareness about mental health issues, and suicide is particularly seen as a religious issue. Whatever the case, a suicide is almost always brushed under the carpet. Why are we as a society so uncomfortable discussing the issue?

With such a grim backdrop, Pakistan is fortunate to still have some experts who have dedicated their lives to solve this one issue. These experts very rightly suggest a holistic approach to tackle the problem but one aspect they do highlight is the need to decriminalise suicide which is only reinforcing the stigma attached to it.

Also read: Notes on suicide

The catalyst for this Special Report was the sad incident, a couple of weeks ago, in one of Lahore’s private sector universities where a student attempted suicide by jumping from a building and got killed. What is the situation like in educational institutions which host the most vulnerable age group? This is dealt with in detail, with some concrete suggestions about counsellors, faculty and students.

The role of media in understanding and reporting suicide in particular must be emphasised in the face of a general tendency to sensationalise. We hope to improve the understanding on this complicated subject in this Special Report and hope the country is better prepared to deal with its suicide problem.