Military Suicides: Helplines, counselling centres fail to curb the menace

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New Delhi | Updated: December 19, 2018 4:23:24 PM

Several steps taken by the military leadership have apparently failed to reduce the incidents of suicides in its file and rank in any significant manner, in fact in case of Indian Air Force, the number of suicides committed by officers and airmen have gone up in 2017 in comparison with the previous year.

Military Suicides, Military Suicides helpline, indian airforce, Indian Army, Air Force, indian navyThe government has not provided any statistics for 2018, making it difficult to study any further change in this disturbing trend. (Representational image: IE)

Several steps taken by the military leadership have apparently failed to reduce the incidents of suicides in its file and rank in any significant manner, in fact in case of Indian Air Force, the number of suicides committed by officers and airmen have gone up in 2017 in comparison with the previous year.

As per the latest data available for the last four years (2014-17), more than 100 officers and Jawans of Indian Army, Air Force and Navy commit suicide each year due to several reasons, which could vary from the place of posting, counter insurgency roles, lack of adequate support from their superiors in availing leaves and prolonged stay away from family and some other reasons, including personal ones.

Although, Indian military, which has 1.4 million active duty personnel, has developed and adopted institutional mechanism like providing better food and clothing, increasing the numbers of married accommodation, better recreation facilities and periodic welfare meetings, but these systems have been less than successful in curbing the worrying trend.

“Basically, this is the stress and strain of life and the difficult conditions in which the armed forces have to serve, this is the main reason,” former deputy chief of Indian army, Lt Gen RK Sahni (retd) told FE Online.

Disturbing Trends

As per the latest official data shared by the government in the Lok Sabha, 112 military personnel have committed suicide in 2014, the number of service personnel taking their own lives dipped by 14% the next year as 96 personnel committed suicide in 2015. However, there was an alarming rise the next year as suicide rate jumped by 34% in 2016 as 129 serving officers and Jawans took their own lives, ringing alarm bells in India’s security apparatus that highlighted the magnitude of the problem despite efforts to control it.

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The statistics registered a decline of 22% in 2017, perhaps, as a result of several measures taken by the security forces that also include setting up mental support helplines, mental treatment centres and conducting Yoga and therapy sessions.

In the last four years, 437 Jawans and officials belonging to the three branches of military have committed suicides. Army is the worst affected by the suicide problem as it accounts for 340 or 78% of the total suicides committed in the last four years, followed by the air force which accounts for 79 suicides (18% of the total), followed by the least affected force – Indian Navy, that accounts for just 4% or 18 suicides between 2014-17.

The government has not provided any statistics for 2018, making it difficult to study any further change in this disturbing trend.

However, Lt Gen RK Sahni ruled out that the deployment in counter insurgency areas leading to more suicides among the armed forces personnel, saying that it is spread all over and sometimes these things occur in peace stations also.

“There are multiple reasons for such a complex problem, there can’t be one single reason and sometimes there can be personal problems behind someone deciding to take the extreme step,” added Lt Gen RK Sahni, who joined Vivekanand International Foundation as a distinguished fellow after retirement.

He said if the national average of suicides in India is compared with the problem of suicides in Indian military then the suicide rate in Indian military will less than the national average.

Yoga, counselling centres, helplines to help

These forces have also deployed psychological counsellors, conducted Yoga sessions and institutionalised mechanisms like Milap and Sahyog (reunion and cooperation) in army formations deployed in northern and eastern commands tackling insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir and North Eastern states.

Army and Air Force have also established helplines called Mansik Sahayata Helpline (mental support helplines), but the combined figure of suicides remains high at around hundred suicides every year.

In fact, Indian Navy, which is the least affected by this problem despite prolonged deployment of sailors and officers in submarines and ships, has established military psychiatry treatment centres on naval ships like INS Asvini.

Navy has also established mental health treatment centres in six cities – Mumbai, Visakhapatnam, Kochi, Port Blair, Goa and Karwar to tackle the problem though it is the least affected by this problem, but these steps have failed to stop or reduce the suicide incidence.

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