Amid Suicides, Experts Warn Against ‘Copycat Phenomena’ in Kashmir

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‘As news of suicide spreads like fire and is sensationalised by media, we need to be also well aware of not activating copycat phenomena in someone else with mental health issues.’

BEYOND the bolstered bridge bids and shore up suicides in Kashmir, there’s a looming danger of what Dr. Yasir Rather calls “copycat phenomena” that might end up doing more harm to the lockdown-distressed valley.

“As news of suicide spreads like fire and is sensationalised by media, we need to be also well aware of not activating copycat phenomena in someone else with mental health issues,” warns Dr. Yasir, noted psychiatrist and professor at the Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (IMHANS), Government Medical College, Srinagar.

During the second viral wave, Kashmir was rattled when a glum girl, who was yet to observe her 16th birthday, showed up in a deadpan manner on Srinagar’s Budshah Bridge on May 6. She created an instant mourning by jumping into the river Jhelum and left lifeguards clueless for six days before they finally fished out her bloated body.

“People with suicidal behaviour have a cognitive distortion known as fortunetelling, where they feel like nothing is going to get better in their lives,” Dr. Yasir said.

This suicidal mindset surfaced on May 31, when an unknown person jumped into Jehlum from Srinagar’s Cement Bridge. On the same day, vigilant cops prevented a distressed woman from jumping from Budshah Bridge.

“These persons actually in their minds start believing that nothing can be fixed,” the mental health specialist continued. “But this cognitive distortion needs to be dealt with medically.”

This mindset can be fixed by medicalising suicide and creating awareness, he added. “At the end of the day, we should stop sensationalising suicide as it can trigger a chain of suicides.”

Notably, Jammu and Kashmir, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), recorded 5,943 suicide cases between 1990 and 2019.

“MSF’s 2015 study revealed that 45 percent of Kashmiri population is in distress,” Dr. Yasir said. “It has been around six years since then too, with a lot of trauma in these years.”

As per the information sought under RTI Act, Srinagar-based law student, Badrul Duja, was informed by the J&K Police, in February this year, that from the year 2010 to 2020, Kashmir witnessed 3024 cases of suicide — with the pandemic year of 2020 leading the decade with 457 suicides.

“From the year 2010 to 2020, Kashmir witnessed 3024 cases of suicide—with the pandemic year of 2020 leading the decade with 457 suicides”

“Clearly,” Dr Yasir said, “the uncertain situation has been escalated by Covid-19 pandemic.”

The doctor’s distress diagnosis comes when people are facing financial issues, employment blues, emotional stressors, change in family ties, domestic abuse and helplessness.

All these factors, mental health experts say, are contributing towards harming the mental health and creating a risk factor for suicide.

Demonstrating the same mindset, a man from Indira Nagar Sonawar lately tried to end his life by jumping into Jhelum near Abdullah Bridge. However, he was rescued by the river police.

“But it’s not possible for the police to stop these suicides every time,” a top police officer said.

“Parents, teachers, preachers and doctors should come forward to deal with the issue.”

Suicides, Dr. Yasir said, can be prevented through proper intervention.

“If anyone has any suicidal thoughts, s/he needs to seek help from a professional,” he said.

“They can share it with their friends or family, avoid isolation and keep themselves busy. Avoiding problems can burden up and lead to a bigger problem.”

That ‘bigger problem’ lately reared its ugly head when a boy walked inside a south Kashmir orchard to record his pre-suicide video.

“I sacrifice my life for all the teachers who have not been paid for the last two years and I can’t tell you how much trouble I’ve had to this day which is why I was forced to take this step today,” the 24-year-old Kulgam boy said.

The cause of his suicide, as narrated by the deceased, was his father’s two-and-a-half year pending salary.

But while majority of Kashmiris are currently asking—“Is it a way to deal with the problems?”—the mental health experts say the extreme step only adds more problems for the family and the society.

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Auqib Javeed

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