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Thar, suicide and social media

The silence surrounding mental illnesses and disorders have pushed a significant number of people at the brink of survival as they continue to suffer alone. In Pakistan, the stigma has led to 15 to 35 cases of people dying by suicide per day. In its 2016 report, the WHO report had also stated that a startling figure of over 5,500 people ended their lives – that is roughly 2.9 percent per 100,000 people. While Pakistan’s silent problem is prevalent across the country, one of the districts that has an unfortunate trend of suicide is Tharparkar in Sindh.

The Sindh Health Authority in June had reported that between 2016 to 2020, 767 cases of suicides occurred in the southern province of which 79 alone were in Thar. Since the starting of this year, at least 48 people – 31 of them women – took their lives in the district in just the first six months of 2021, according to the police data. To understand the reason behind the surging cases, a fact-finding report published on December 30 stated that the negative impact of social media was the leading reason behind these cases. It said that social media made many believe, “If there seems no solution to problems the best way is to commit suicide rather than facing the situation.”

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Adverse impacts of social media have undoubtedly hugely impacted the mental health of users, especially as they coped with the COVID-19 pandemic amid the frequent lockdowns imposed in the starting of the year. In October, Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen had mentioned that the social media platform was well aware of the fact that it was fueling hate and harming children’s mental health for “profit over safety”. Such platforms are also guilty of selling a lifestyle that is out-of-reach of many, especially those residing in villages like Thar.

It is then, as the fact-finding report mentioned, important for family or friends to notice ‘telltale signs in an individual’ and immediately inform healthcare centres and seek professional help. What is important is to understand that social media is not the only cause and other factors, such as, child or forced marriages also contribute to the feeling of helplessness. In such cases, government intervention is required to stop this practice. Early interventions can save lives, especially in a country where individuals are unaware of the fact that they may be suffering from a mental illness, such as, depression.


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