Yet another young girl, belonging to a well-to-do family in Ranchi and pursuing a medical course, committed suicide on Tuesday by jumping into a well. On Wednesday, Manoj Mahto, hanged himself in his house. There have been numerous such cases happening in Jharkhand and as per police records, every day 5 suicide deaths are being reported in Jharkhand for one reason or the other during the period of COVID-19 pandemic.
It is widely believed here that the Narendra Modi government’s utter failure to address mental health issues on an urgent basis seems to have caused increasing number of suicides, not only in metro cities but in a place like Jharkhand which is considered as a land of salubrious climate where the tribal community, in particular, love festivals, dance and music. But now the ‘Happy Go Lucky’ populace here is found resorting to committing suicides and criminal activities . A majority of the victims in the state are from the younger generation.
A UNO policy brief on COVID-19 and mental health says that though most countries spend around 2% of their health budgets on mental health, the scenario in India is worse. This year’s budgetary allocation for mental health by the Modi government is 0.05 percent of the total healthcare budget. The news reports also say that apart from publishing a helpline number since the pandemic, the Modi government has come up with no further efforts in this area.
Moreover, the Modi government’s overall healthcare expenditure is a paltry 3.5 % of GDP according to World Bank data, a proportion which has been declining since the BJP took over reins at the Centre, whereas the international average is 10% of GDP.
The cases of suicide in Jharkhand have risen during the past two years for which data is available before the advent of COVID 19. Whereas in 2018 it ended with number of cases standing at 1317, in 2019 it rose to 1646, when the COVID-19 pandemic had yet to hit the world. However, with the dawn of the pandemic, the number of suicide cases has gone up enormously with a data of 1010 cases during a period of merely six months, which comes to 5 people killing themselves every day. Psychologists and psychiatrists attribute such an alarming rise in suicides by younger people to distress triggered by the unplanned and sudden nationwide lockdown. “There have been a staggering number of suicides caused by high expectations, loneliness and lack of freedom of movement,” said Parvej Hasan, Professor of Psychology at Ranchi University and a former Chairman of the State Public Service Commission.
Referring to a study by a group of public interest technologists, Dr Hasan agreed that a large number of migrant, specially young people, who were stuck in quarantine away from family, died by suicide fearing infection and sometimes even the stigma attached to the disease. He said that in Jharkhand other causes were migrants travelling long distances on foot or queuing for ration, and police atrocities while travelling back home. He said that in many cases the victims had given up on life when they faced vigilantism for violating rules and denial of medical care.
The following official figures available with the Jharkhand Government could very well reveal the enlarged dimension of the crisis facing almost every household of the state:
Discussions with those who worked as faculty members of the Central Institute of Psychiatrist, Ranchi, revealed that the suicide figures were closely followed that of migrant students dying in accidents on their way back home and those related to starvation and financial distress. They believe that the sudden and unplanned lockdown announced by the Prime Minister which created mental health crisis and caused mass scale unemployment and loss of income, financial distress, isolation, loss of liberty, fear of infection and death and worries regarding social isolation which further strengthened the grip of anxiety, depression and stress on well being of the youth in the region.
Coping with such psychological stress has been quite hard, particularly for those youths of Jharkhand who either work or pursue studies outside the state and many of them have chosen suicide as a way out of their grim reality.
These senior psychiatrists lamented that though such a large number of people, particularly the youth, have been experiencing acute mental health related issues during lockdown, the state of affairs is not being given the attention and intervention it demands by the Centre, though a PM CARES Fund has been set up specially to deal with such situations out of which Jharkhand state has hardly been allocated sufficient funds to take the requisite steps to stop suicides.