I have previously talked about the armed forces and how their mental well being is linked to their posting. It was brought to my attention by a friend that there is a deeper and more serious issue when we go into the depths of paramilitary forces. Most of the reasons why these forces commit suicide is similar to the issues that army soldiers faced. They included issues like separation from family, lack of job satisfaction and loneliness at job among others. Let us take a deeper look into the issues that are gripping our paramilitary forces.
Paramilitary & Suicide
During the last 6 years, 700 members of the CAPF committed suicide. Suicide claimed more lives in the CAPF than combat. This is similar to the trend noticed among Army Jawans between the period between 2008-2010. According to a government panel, the major reasons for this were lack of stability, loneliness and domestic strife. The more worrying figure was that of 9000 personnel taking voluntary retirement. Domestic problems find the root cause in lack of support for the personnel spouse which increases the burden of domestic responsibilities on them.
Another issue is the constant relocation and intense workload that accompanies the life of an average paramilitary jawan. They are given instruction to move from Assam to Kerala and from there to Kashmir without any breaks. The high number of vacancies in the various branches of these paramilitary forces leads to more workload for every individual.
Research showed that suicides were higher among personnel from poor socio-economic background, and mostly among the 25-35 age group. However, there was not much difference in suicide rates when it came to the marital status of personnel or whether they belonged to nuclear or joint families. “Poor motivation, alcohol dependency, sleep disorders, problems with spouse or other relatives at home, unfavourable working conditions, financial issues, anger and helplessness” were identified as factors leading to stress and depression and eventually suicides.
This research also broke the myths that suicide was caused by lack of a joint family or marital discords as the number of people who committed suicide due to the two was almost equal to suicides committed by people who came from joint families or were single.
Women in Paramilitary
Women account for only 2% of the CAPF but commit 40% of the suicides reported. This doesn’t necessarily mean that women are not fit for service as some people would say. The problem is that for most of the suicides, we don’t even have the reason behind the suicide. For purposes of statistics, these suicides are clubbed under others but the fact remains that we just don’t know why women in the paramilitary forces are taking this tragic step. They aren’t posted in combat positions hence it is unlikely to be because of duty related stress but the issue still remains worrying.
The BSF has introduced a ‘Mental well-being intervention” as a measure to reduce suicide rates and plan interventions for the soldiers. Under this program, soldiers will be required to take a test annually which will determine their mental well being. Depending on how they fare in the tests, they will be given their duties and given corrective measures. Until now the tests were taken only to ensure if the soldiers were fit enough to perform their duties physically. Now they will be tested psychologically as well.
The BSF has also trained nearly 200 medics in clinical psychology with consultation from psychiatrists in London. The commanders have also been directed to ensure that their men are given enough time for recreation and that their grievances are addressed by informal channels as the formal ones are cumbersome. They have also been given handouts and notes that talk about how fellow soldiers can be helped.
Verma, R., Mina, S., & Deshpande, S. N. (2013). An analysis of paramilitary referrals to psychiatric services at a tertiary care center. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 22(1), 54–59. http://doi.org/10.4103/0972-6748.123622