Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed an alarming rise in the number of suicides in the past three decades with experts attributing the cause to the armed conflict in the region, particularly in the valley, besides other underlying health issues.
The erstwhile state recorded a total of 5,943 cases between 1990 and 2019, reveals the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
As per the NCRB's annual report of 2019 titled 'Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India', there were 287 suicides in J&K in 2017, which rose to 330 in 2018.
In 2019 however, the number dropped marginally, but the region still recorded 284 suicides during that year.
Experts blame the eruption of the armed conflict in Jammu and Kashmir in the late '90s which has particularly taken a heavy toll on life and property in Kashmir valley for the rise in the number of suicides in the region of late.
Dr Yasir Ahmad Rather, Consultant Psychiatrist and Associate Professor at the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (IMHANS) GMC Srinagar expressed concern over the sudden rise in the number of suicides in J&K particularly in Kashmir, given its past history.
"If we go back to a few decades, suicide rate in Kashmir was as low as 0.5 per lakh population- at par with Kuwait's 0.1/ 1 lakh population-and which is considered to be the lowest in the whole world," said Dr Yasir.
The armed conflict, which has been more concentrated in the valley, and mental health issues are contributing to the rising number of suicides in the valley, he said.
He cited a study conducted by the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) – an international humanitarian medical non-governmental organisation – revealing that "45 percent of Kashmiri population is in psychological distress" even as another research study conducted by 'Action Aid' has shown that "there is 1.8% of active suicidality in Kashmiri population" he said.
Dr Yasir observed that there is an increase in deliberate self harm and suicidal ideation in adolescents and early adults making them more vulnerable to suicide.
He also blamed depression, anxiety, child sexual abuse, impulsive personality and even drug abuse as the causal factors for suicides adding that family history of psychiatric illness or suicide can also be contributing factors.
The prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to emotional and financial drain, instability in jobs, uncertainty, depressive and anxiety features, too has created a perfect setting for suicides more, Dr Yasir said.
He however suggested that suicide, like any other illness, can be prevented through proper intervention.
He urged the stakeholders including parents and teachers to fix responsibility so as to prevent suicides from turning into an epidemic.
"Schools need to take up responsibility for promoting positive mental health where psychological sensitivity is imparted from the very beginning. Concepts of emotions and feelings should be discussed with children and they should be taught how to cope with stress and appreciate individualism," he said.
While suggesting the institutions to impart skill training to students and have teams of psychologists at their disposal, Dr Yasir urged parents to be more expressive and observe and understand their children and appreciate their individual personalities.
"The society as a whole needs to talk more often about mental health issues and how it is okay to talk about it, seek help for it so that de-stigmatisation can occur at the societal level," he suggested.
He also urged the government to set up a special helpline to address suicides and bring in public awareness through various mediums on how suicide is a mental illness and can be treated if help is sought instead of stigmatising it.
Showkat Ahmed, a Sociology teacher at Government College For Women, MA Road Srinagar too cited a "frustrating environment" created by the Kashmir conflict, which as per him, had posed challenges for the local youth in terms of education and jobs leading to extreme steps by the youth at times.
"We do not have abundant avenues be it economic or social wherein we can engage the youth so that they can have a sigh of relief. Therefore we can say there is some sort of frustrating environment," Showkat said.
Besides, familial issues, economic issues and those related to education or career too contribute to the rising tendency in suicides, he added.
Showkat also suggested a revamp in the current education system wherein there are ample career choices for youngsters through an end to "redundant examination system and obsolete curriculum".
"Once we succeed in reforming our education system, it can develop such a type of environment wherein people will never think of ending their lives. Because they would have ample opportunities to avail within their career," he added.