Suicide prevention a health priority: Health Minister

Universal Health Assurance Programme to cover mental health
 New Delhi,Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has expressed grief over the national loss in valuable human resources which is owed to the rising tendency of young people to commit suicide when facing seemingly unconquerable adversity. 
Inaugurating a mass contact programme in Thrissur, Kerala, today to conscientise the general public about the increasing rate of suicides, Dr Harsh Vardhan said, “The mounting incidence of suicide has become a public health issue of global importance as brought out by the World Health Organisation in a recent report. The government will adopt a strategy on suicide prevention which will stress on counselling and wider spread of treatment centres for depression.” 
A cycle rally is on in Kerala since September 11 with the purpose of generating mass awareness on suicides, drug abuse, alcoholism, violence and other social problems. The campaign is led by a Catholic priest, Father Davis Chiramel, and is named “Ma Nishada” after the first shloka in the Ramayana. Others present on the occasion included Justice (retired) Shri Cyriac Joseph, Member of National Human Rights Commission, and Shri C.N. Jayadevan, the MP of Thrissur. 

Though India’s suicide rate is the 12th highest in the world, the country is unfortunately home to the highest number of suicides among people in the 15-29 age group –35.5 in 100,000 people. 

“This is no age to die. These are people who could contribute a lot to nation building because a great number of them are well educated. They took the extreme step out of depression forced on them by some form of disillusionment. With timely counselling they could have been saved,” the Minister said. 

He pointed out that between 1.5 and 2 million people commit suicide in India annually. For every suicide committed successfully, a minimum of 15-20 people fail. Besides, not all suicides are reported to the police because of the stigma attached. 

“Medical students, management students, engineering students, young professionals and even government officials are committing suicides in large numbers. This has serious implications for the future,” the Minister said. 

He urged the parents of young children to instil in their progeny values of patience and magnanimity. He counselled, “Do not pressure them to achieve impossible goals. Love them for what they are instead of taunting them for not living up to your ideal. That way they will never even think of committing suicide.” 

It is significant that the highest number of suicides is reported from states with a high literacy level. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala and Karnataka report more than 53 percent of the national total. 
Dr Harsh Vardhan said that as part of a move to experiment with suicide prevention strategies, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences, Bangalore has initiated a public outreach programme to spread awareness on suicides and prevent people from taking the extreme step when they manifest early signs of a suicidal streak. Already 28 countries round the world undertake such programmes. “This programme, called ‘Gatekeeper’, involves training people from all walks of life with knowledge and basic skills on suicidal instinct identification. These ‘gatekeepers’ would infiltrate society and keep their senses open to detect cases which they report for counselling. A prominent NGO is partnering NIMHANS in this initiative,” the Minister revealed. 

The government has also decided to bring mental illnesses under the purview of the Universal Health Assurance Programme (UHAP), the Minister informed. This has been recommended by an expert group constituted to conceptualise what is slated to be the world’s largest ever public health mission. 
There are a large number of mental illnesses which are easily curable with drugs and counselling, Dr Harsh Vardhan stated. But their cost is prohibitive and only the elite classes can afford them. But since the vast majority of the mentally sick are from poor backgrounds, the government has decided to assure free treatment for select illnesses, he said. 

The Minister pointed out that a Kerala High Court ruling in 2013 made non-inclusion of the mentally ill under the Rashtriya Swasth Bima Yojana illegal. So, it has been decided that UHAP will pack in select mental illnesses in its free treatment list. Dr Harsh Vardhan has words of praise for Kerala’s health infrastructure. “This morning on my way from Thrissur to Perinthalmana, I stopped at a primary health centre in Mundoor. I was impressed by the cleanliness, efficiency and particularly the fact that it had granite flooring which reflects the Kerala government’s commitment to public health. I hope this example is emulated all over the country,” he said. 

Shri Justice (retired) Cyriac Joseoph, former Supreme Court judge and presently Member, National Human Rights Commission, said that the influence of liquor behind most crimes is a fact of life. “Those who say prohibition is impractical obfuscate the facts. There should be a pro-active campaign against the consumption of liquor”, he stressed. Shri Justice (retd) Joseph also spoke in favour of de-criminalising attempt to suicide. Alongside, he wanted the government to compensate the families of farmers who commit suicide owning to extreme poverty because it should be seen as the State’s failure to guarantee Right to Life. 
Father Davis Chiramel, the organiser of “Ma Nishada”, said that a national strategy on suicide and violence prevention is the need of the hour. He said that the cycle rally also strove to raise public consciousness against murder and other heinous crimes.

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