Balochistan sees rise in suicide cases

Owing to numerous interlinked reasons such as unemployment, financial crisis, depression, family problems, and many others, the numbers of suicide cases are surging in Balochistan. Despite being the richest province in mineral resources in Pakistan and by area as well, unfortunately, it always lags behind when it comes to the basic needs for people, particularly when compared to other provinces of the country.

According to Paank, a non-profit organisation which oversees the human rights situations in Balochistan, 56 people were reported to have committed suicide, so far this year. In 2021, the number was around 80. Notwithstanding, the under-reported numbers of suicide cases could make it a higher number than in this estimated report. Also there is no proper data collection strategy in the health department either.

Recently, the Makran division has become the growing hub of suicide cases with financial problems, mental torture, harassment, gender violence and educational pressure being the core reasons.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and contribute to the community. Mental health is a basic human right, but in the non-urban social set up in Balochistan, mental health issues that include mental disorders, psychosocial disabilities as well as risk of self-harm, are generally ignored and not given the right level of importance.

Many people commit suicide because of stress and depression. In their research paper, psychiatrists Dinesh Bhugra, Alex Till and Norman Sartorious define mental health as “More than the absence of mental disorders, it is the state of balance within oneself and one’s physical and social environment. The basic needs of mental health include food, shelter, survival, protection, society, social supports, and freedom from pain, and unnecessary stress.” Yet in Pakistan, most of the people are mentally distressed because of family pressure, educational burden and other social problems. Many individuals become hopeless when they feel deprived of fundamental rights, unwanted in the society or ignored by the community.

Ghafoor* is an introvert but a very talented and hardworking student. He has always stood first in his class despite belonging to a poor family who couldn’t afford to pay his tuition fees. Hence, many a time he would be asked to leave the class when he was unable to make the fee payment. Mixed feelings of embarrassment, humiliation and financial crisis engulfed him. He felt that the world was against him and only his aging mother would support him. One day, he attempted to take his life, but luckily survived. “I tried to commit suicide because I was dismayed to hear that schooling has come to an end for me,” he says. “Poverty, frustration and despair compel people to attempt suicide, otherwise, life is dear to everyone.”

Since they understand that education is the only way they change their lives for the better, students in Balochistan get frustrated and hopeless after failing an exam. Unable to cope with the stress of failure, they think about suicide. Although it is human to find coping with failure difficult, in our society there is far too much parental pressure on children to become doctors or engineers. Even after devoting 14-16 hours of study per day to prepare for exams, they are devastated when they don’t do well in exams. Also, there is no mental health awareness in the region nor a psychological clinic to counsel them to overcome such pressure.

When Hasnain was not allowed to continue with his studies, he became depressed. “I tried to attempt suicide to ease my sorrows and mental torture,” he says. Education is a fundamental right, but unfortunately many young people in Balochistan are deprived of this very basic need in the 21st century.

Ghafoor* is not the only one who is depressed about his fundamental rights, there are many others whose request for financial support was turned down by the government. Many Baloch youth hold masters degrees, but are jobless and dependent on their family. The provincial government should take steps to impart basic needs to people and ensure education and employment for youth, so that grave mental health issues and suicide among the youth can be controlled.

Mental illness, sexual abuse, family pressure, financial crisis and educational burdens leads to suicide, a huge social issue that can be controlled to some extent by psychological counselling and mental health treatments which should be easily accessible to people in Balochistan. “Cognitive restructuring helps in the re-education of suicide cases,” says Mehreen Sheran, a clinical psychologist based in Turbat, Makran. “It helps individuals change the way they think, for instance cognitive distortion goes towards more balanced thoughts.”

While educational pressure and mental torture are dangerously affecting the lives of young people in Balochistan, there is poor availability and accessibility of health services. People are forced to visit other provinces for mental health treatment. “People having suicidal thoughts must be given more time and their involvement in decision-making in their personal lives might help to channel their desperate thoughts and give a new perspective towards life,” says Mahan Baloch, a doctor based in Kech.

While hopelessness, toxic relationships, financial burdens, harassment and mental torture are the core factors responsible for the growing number of suicide cases in the province, mental health is considered a stigma, something to hide from others and a taboo subject that is not openly discussed in society. Apart from creating an awareness of mental health issues in Balochistan, the federal and provincial government need to be more attentive to the mental health and care in Balochistan, as it affects the daily lives of people and hence the social fabric.