Concerned over suicides and stress factors claiming more lives of troops than during operations, the country’s largest paramilitary force, the CRPF, has launched a first-time project to ascertain jawans' mental health, its Director General RR Bhatnagar has said.
The force is training a maiden batch of counsellors to check the menace in the ranks, Mr. Bhatnagar told PTI in an interview.
The over 3-lakh personnel strong force, involved in three major combat theatres of counter-terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir, anti-Naxal operations in the Left Wing Extremism-hit States and counter-insurgency in the North East, has tied up with premier institutes like the AIIMS and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) to ensure better work-life balance for troops.
Mr. Bhatnagar said, “If you were to look at suicide figures for the last five-six years, these numbers per lakh of force personnel have gone down. The number of suicides [in the force] to the national average for people of that age is comparable.
“Having said that, we are very concerned about the problem. We have started the administration of certain tests and questionnaires to find out the stress and depression levels of jawans as part of a pilot project.”
The test was recently conducted in one of their field formations and force experts would now see the results to gauge its utility further and then implement it as a policy measure.
The CRPF chief was asked a question in the context of recent data that showed heart attacks, depression and suicides claimed 15 times more lives of troops than anti-Maoist operations in the last two years.
What the data says
The data said 156 CRPF personnel died due to heart attack, 38 because of depression and suicides and 435 due to other non-operational reasons last year.
Similarly, the data for 2016 revealed that 92 troops of the force died due to heart attack, 26 because of depression and suicides while 353 lost their lives due to other reasons.
Mr. Bhatnagar said the latest questionnaire series had been prepared by a panel of experts and doctors in consultation with their in-house medical wing and they were now going through the results.
“We are checking the reliability and validation of this exercise. Then, we will make it a regular affair. We want to ensure that no life is lost due to these reasons. We are taking steps to see how can we deal with it [depression] in terms of counselling and medical treatment.
“The CRPF is training some of its own people as counsellors. Till now, we used to take recourse to professional counsellors from other agencies. The counsellors will further train more personnel so that each force unit has such skilled staff,” he said.
The 1983 batch IPS officer said he had passed directions and “made it a point that every suicide case in the force is thoroughly investigated. This is to see that if there were certain signals that the person who committed suicide was giving and if yes, were they picked up and responded to or not?”
Mr. Bhatnagar asserted that they have found that largely the reasons behind suicide cases in the force were due to domestic or household issues and also due to the “pressures of today’s modern day lives”.
He said, “We have involved the TISS, All India Institute of Medical Sciences and local institutes to find solutions so that somebody who has a psychotic issue and needs medical attention can be helped quickly. I can however tell you that the figures do not indicate it [stress related problems and suicides] is increasing,” he said.
A “lot of effort” had been made in the force to address these problems and some standard operating procedures and guidelines have been framed. “We have put stress on the ‘buddy system’ where one trooper is responsible for the other. We have asked unit and battalion commanders to frequently interact with their subordinates and their team, especially when a jawan comes back from home as that is the time many incidents of suicide take place as the person brings back some issues of home with him,” he said.