Unmasking stress: Two soldiers commit suicide in north Kashmir in 24 hours 

Srinagar: During the last 24 hours, two Indian army soldiers committed suicide in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district, triggering a debate on the mental health issues among the soldiers in conflict-ridden areas.

“Birender Sinha (24) of 30RR shot himself dead with his service rifle at around 06.45 hours on Wednesday. He was on duty at HQ Langate. According to the official sources, the bullet had pierced his head and he died on the spot.

Later, less than 24 hours has passed, another soldier shot himself with his service rifle in Handwara, few kilometres away from the earlier place.

31-year-old Sepoy Shankar Singh, a resident of Prithvpura Rajasthan, was serving in 18RR e-coy at Warnow area of Kupwara when he shot himself with his service rifle and he was found dead by his colleagues when they rushed to the spot after hearing the gunshots.

The army officials said that they are investigating the cause of their deaths.

According to the central government report in Rajya Sabha last year, 310 army personnel have committed suicide since 2014.

Nine officers and 19 junior commissioned officers were among those who committed suicide between 2014 and July 31, 2017, minister of state for Defence Subhash Bhamre had stated while replying to a query on incidents of suicide and fratricide in the Army in Rajya Sabha last year.

On January 9 this year, Air Force personnel Kachin Kumar, 30, was found hanging in Udhampur district of Jammu. Earlier, on December 14, 2017, LN Parvesh Kumar Mishra shot himself dead in RS Pura area of Jammu.

According to the experts, most of the suicide cases in the forces are due to stress, having complications with the bosses, denial of leave on occasions like festivals and family get together. Though paramilitary forces like the CRPF have introduced the ‘Sainik Samelan’ to help the troopers to overcome stress, however, the ‘Samleans’ have proven to be least effective for them to cope up with the stress.

A mid-level officer presently on duty in Srinagar said that the Superiors’ rude behaviour with his subordinates is the main cause of the stress among the soldiers.

“Recently, a soldier from north India brought his family to stay with him in Srinagar, although without the permission of his officer. Despite making him understand calmly, he was insulted by his superior in front of his family and forced to shift back his family to their native state,” the officer said.

“The soldier is now facing mental stress which may lead him to take the extreme step,” he added.

Leading psychiatrist, Dr Arshid Hussain says that availability of the lethal weapons to carry the suicidal intentions forward is the main factor that the suicide attempts are successful in the forces.

“Most of the studies which have been done in US combatants have found high rates of suicide in combatants almost double the general population rates. The studies have shown Post traumatic stress disorder , Depression ,availability of lethal weapons to act on suicidal ideation plan or intent are greatest predictors of suicide besides lack of social and family support,” he added.

Experts believe that the main cause of the stress among the soldiers is the conflict among other reasons which they believe are difficult working conditions, absence of relaxation facilities and prolonged stay-away from family.

“Conflicts are known to be high-stress factors for both combatants as well as non-combatants. In fact, this a worldwide phenomenon as you can see in case of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. These things give rise to increased psychiatric problems including depression, PTSD, substance abuse as well as suicide,” says Dr Zaid Wani, known psychiatrist and associate professor at Institute of Nero-science and mental health, Srinagar.

He said that this continues to take the toll even after soldiers are not on active duty or have even left their jobs.

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