Crisis Teams Can Counter Surging Suicides in Kashmir, Psychiatrist Says

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Dr Syed Aqeel Hussain

Kashmir’s suicide story has stayed silent and sullen since last summer when curbs forced 8 million souls indoors to grapple with burnout moments. In a bid to salvage distressed minds from disintegrating, a Kashmiri mental health expert working with WHO has suggested a rescue plan.

By Zeenish Imroz

APART from ‘growing cases’ of cardiac arrests targeting young Kashmiris, sudden suicides involving preteens have already sent chilling signals across the valley.

The suicidal tendencies, Crime Branch’s fresh figures now reveal, have soared in Kashmir, as around 390 suicide attempts were made in the valley till September 2020, compared to 284 and 330 attempts in 2019 and 2018 respectively.

Among others, Dr Syed Aqeel Hussain, a Consultant Psychiatrist and a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists London, is keeping a close eye on his homeland’s rising suicide graph.

“There’s clear evidence if we’ve a crisis team which includes people working in the primary health care and if they provide basic support, counselling at that time and do basic assessment, it might reduce the risk of suicide by 20 percent,” says Dr Hussain, who has been working as the international coordinator for WHO Mental Health Gap Action Programme.

According to the mental health specialist, if crisis teams are established in all districts, they could be helpful in collecting data, as the suicide numbers from Kashmir aren’t available on the WHO map of age-standardized suicide rates.

“The crisis teams could be helpful in making recommendations to the government based on ground based knowledge with regards to the management of suicide in young population,” the mental health expert says. 

Twin Strategy

During his 2017 Geneva visit to launch his first suicide report, Dr. Hussain had bumped into a Tamilian professor namely Vijay Kumar Lakshmi and learned about a twin strategy which had curtailed suicide rate in Tamil Nadu.

“One being setting up of pesticide banks,” Dr Hussain continues.

“Instead of taking pesticides home, farmers stored it in the pesticide banks in the panchayat. That way people don’t have access to pesticides at home, which otherwise was one of the main intakes for poisoning in Tamil Nadu.”

The second impulsive overdose for suicides in southern state of India was after the board results were out.

“For that,” the Kashmiri mental health expert says, “the professor from Tamil Nadu had initiated the super-supplementary exams held in a few months, so that unsuccessful students could continue with their studies instead of wasting a year waiting for bi-annuals.”

In Sri Lanka, the production of toxic fertilizers is banned which Dr. Hussain has suggested for the case of Kashmir as well.

“Stopping access to these chemicals is a major factor that can lead to the reduction of suicides,” he believes.

“I spoke to the Royal College and WHO and they said they’re happy to send the team on receiving an invitation from the government of Kashmir but unfortunately since I submitted the report, ‘Mental Health and the Youth of Kashmir in 2017’, there has been no response from the government.”

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