Stress a major factor contributing to suicides in the force, say experts

Dying in harness may be a matter of pride to men in uniform, but suicides and fatal road accidents are also contributing significantly to the high number of casualties among police personnel in Tamil Nadu.

In fact, Tamil Nadu tops the southern States in police casualties.

National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) statistics for 2012 reveal that 280 police personnel died in the State while in service, of which 58 had committed suicide and 60 died in road accidents.

Though wearing of helmets while riding two-wheelers is a standing instruction in Tamil Nadu police, many policemen who met with road accidents succumbed to head injuries. While 47 police personnel died in road accidents in Andhra Pradesh, the number was 14 in Karnataka and only two in Kerala. Similarly, Kerala recorded the least number of suicides in the force last year, police sources said.

Besides road accidents and suicides, what worries senior police officials and health care professionals is the number of police personnel dying due to ailments. As many as 162 persons died a “natural death” in 2012 of which 82 were in the age group of 45-55 years and 42 in the 35-45 age bracket.

According to psychiatrist, Dr. C. Ramasubramanian, stress was a major factor that drove police personnel to commit suicide or develop major ailments like diabetes and hypertension. “There is no specific working hours for the police and they suffer from irregular eating and sleeping habits over a period of time. They hardly spend time with family and even on festive occasions, police are away from home on duty,” he said. Dr. Ramasubramanian is also the founder of the M.S. Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation that is conducting counselling sessions to police personnel and their family in Madurai district as part of a pilot project christened ‘Personal Effectiveness Programme’. Pointing out that police were exposed to vulnerable conditions and often worked under tremendous pressure, he said they tend to pass on the stress to the family members.

“We have come across many children (of policemen) getting associated with anti-social elements and indulging in criminal activities. The common complaint in almost all the police families is that he/she comes home late and spends little or no time with the children…” Dr. Ramasubramanian said policemen who were unable to overcome professional or personal hurdles had a tendency to consume alcohol. “Stress and alcohol is a deadly combination that can lead to potentially fatal health conditions. Through counselling programme, we are trying to make police personnel health conscious and encourage them to take up de-stressing activities like music, yoga and meditation. We advice them to spend as much time as possible with the family,” he said.

When contacted Director-General of Police K. Ramanujam said the ‘personal effectiveness programme’ being experimented in Madurai would be extended to other districts depending upon the response.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior police officer said stress and risk were prevalent in almost all professions and the police department was no exception.

“It would not be correct to say that there is so much of stress in the force that police personnel are committing suicides or slipping into depression."

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