New Delhi: Data tabled in parliament shows that between 2011 and 2018, there were 891 deaths by suicide of members of the Indian armed forces (Army, Air Force and Navy).
Suicides were highest in the Army, which reported that 707 personnel took their own lives between 2011 and 2018. The Air Force reported nearly 5 times fewer suicides at 148 over the eight years. The Navy has the lowest number of suicides, with 36 deaths reported over the same period.
There was a spike in suicides in the Army in 2011, when 105 deaths were reported. The next highest suicides were in 2016, with 104 deaths. Last year, there were 80 deaths by suicide in the Army.
The average deaths per year across the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy is 111. While there are an average of 88 deaths by suicide annually in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy average 18.5 and 4.5 deaths by suicide annually.
Suicides in other forces
Apart from the Army, Air Force and Navy, the government also tracks the number of deaths by suicide in the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and Assam Rifles.
Among the CAPF, between 2012 and 2015, the highest number of suicides were reported by the Central Reserved Police Force (CRPF), with 149 deaths. About 134 Border Security Force (BSF) personnel took their own lives in the same period.
The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) reported 56 suicides in the four years, the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) and the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) reported 25 suicides. The Assam Rifles reported 30 deaths by to suicide in the same period.
The data reveals that the bulk of the people who take their own lives are not gazetted officers, junior commanding officers or subordinate officers, but come from “other ranks.”
The highest number of suicides were reported in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Do the armed forces have any mental health support?
The Union home ministry says the reason for the suicides is because of occupational hazards such as long and continuous tenures of deployment. According to the ministry, personnel also struggle with family issues, domestic problems and marital discord. Sometimes they have “perceived grievances” or financial problems. The government claims that the “mental built” of the individual and their “inability to withstand stress” are also reasons for the high number of suicides.
The government says they have taken many measures to create a “healthy and favourable environment” for armed personnel.
At the very basic level, the government says it is providing better quality of facilities such as clothing, food, travel and recreation. It also provides accommodation for married couples to stay together and schooling for children. The government has liberalised the leave policy and has established grievance redressal mechanisms.
A military psychiatry treatment centre has been formed at the naval hospital INHS Asvini in Mumbai. Other mental health centres have been set up in Mumbai, Goa, Kochi, Vizag, Port Blair and Karwar.
There is also a periodic “welfare meeting” for personnel. Counsellors have been trained and deployed across units. While some officers have been trained to function as counsellors, there are also civilian counsellors. A psychologist visits units and formations from time to time, for counselling. This happens individually and in groups.
Mental health awareness is being given to personnel at the very beginning of their service, during their pre-induction training.
Yoga and meditation techniques are being made part of “unit routine” being made available to personnel to help them manage stress.
Personnel of the Army and Air Force can also call up a helpline for their mental health.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also appear them to the nearest hospital.