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Suicide of former Maharashtra ATS chief highlight lack of mental healthcare

The former Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) chief and Additional Director General of Police in Maharashtra committed suicide on May 11. Himanshu Roy had been fighting cancer since 2000. Some have speculated that post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have played a rolein his death. This high profile incident has spotlighted lacking mental healthcare within India, where suicide is becoming an increasingly prevalent issue.

India does not currently have any support measures for those suffering from PTSD due to high stress professions such as the police force or army. This lack of support for occupations that may take their toll on mental wellbeing can result in individuals suffering from PTSD or depression often doing so in silence.

The cultural stigma surrounding mental illness in India does little to alleviate this. Those seeking help can be deemed paagal, or mad. This may dissuade many people from seeking help, though for many the assistance is simply not there.

Himanshu Roy. Image credit: Devanshu Arora [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
Access to mental health services is severely limited. President Ram Nath Kovind has highlighted the lack of mental health workers and facilities, claiming that around ninety percent of those with mental illnesses do not have access to any services at all. This is despite a historic bill passing in 2017 assuring access to these services for all that need them.

Recently, several high risk groups have been identified with notably high suicide rates. Alarmingly, students are among these groups. It was found that a student in India dies due to suicide every hour, with the most common method being hanging.

Many university students are spending time away from home for the first time in their lives. This may foster a sense of isolation that they are poorly equipped to deal with. This, combined with academic pressure, results in many opting to take their own lives.

Disproportionately high suicide rates can also be found among India’s farmers. Though an odd link, some have suggested this may be due to climate change. Droughts and alterations in weather patterns due to climate change have hindered profits of many rural farmers, driving many into poverty. With profits fluctuating regularly farming is becoming a more stressful career option, this, coupled with the lack of mental healthcare in rural areas, may be the cause of the rise in suicides.

Finally, much like Himanshu Roy, those with terminal conditions were found to have a high risk of suicide. Around 62 people with terminal illnesses take their own lives in India every day. For some, this may also stem from the potential for treatment to drive both themselves and their families into poverty. Terminal conditions will often require long-term treatment. Many Indians cannot afford the expense.

Whether through lack of access or social stigma, Indians are not being provided with an adequate degree of mental healthcare. With fewer than 2000 clinical psychologists in the country, significant reforms to India’s mental healthcare system are required to address the issue.

Contact details for mental health support in India can be accessed here. 

If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.

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