KERALA

Local support mechanism for farmers mooted

KOTTAYAM, JULY 24. While the decision to provide financial assistance to the kith and kin of the farmers who committed suicide in the State has been welcomed by all sections, psychiatrists have stressed the need to supplement the action with other supports, including psychiatric help, for potential victims and survivors.

V. Satheesh, assistant professor in charge of the suicide prevention clinic at the Department of Psychiatry in the Kottayam Medical College who led a professional team to study the suicide cases in Idukki district, says that farmers could easily be identified as the largest single risk group.

Suicide rate

A cursory look at the incidence of suicides in Idukki during the past ten years proves that the district, along with Wayanad, has the highest suicide rate. From a high 51 per lakh in 1995, it showed a slight downward trend, coming down to 44 per lakh the next year, only to reach the record 51.30 in 1999. In 2002, the suicide rate in Idukki was 49.70.

This is against the State average of 30.6 per lakh and the national average of 11.2. The world average has been put at 16 per lakh. Incidentally, Idukki and far away Wayanad are two district which lie outside the so-called Kerala Model — with low density of population, negative sex ratio and non-accessibility of the benefits of land reforms on account of the predominant plantation sector. According Dr. Satheesh, these are farm-dominant areas and the small and marginal farmers there have no other source of income to turn to, pushing them into an acute crisis mode much easily.

Accessibility to material benefits such as financial assistance, restructuring of credit, repayment holidays, etc. declared by the Government would go a long way in helping these sections. However, along with such material assistance, other support systems should also be put into place to check such incidents in future, he says.

Crisis intervention

While the Government has given shape to a crisis management group at the State level, the need for local-level crisis intervention groups has been highlighted by the present crisis. These groups at the grama panchayat level could utilise the services of locally available expertise and experience. Using a multi-pronged approach, the services of various disciplines could be utilised in this endeavour, he says.

The district authorities, experts in primary health centres, local political leaders, college students and community health workers could be drafted into such crisis management groups. Non-governmental organisations, self-help groups, `ayakoottams', etc. would be able to act as Good Samaritans. Linkages could be developed with the private sector as well, he says.

Psychiatry Departments could act as nodal agencies in dispensing healthcare and also involve themselves through outreach programmes. The primary duty of such a group would be the identification of the risk groups. By gathering information on whether a family had utilised welfare measures from the Government, whether they have availed themselves of credit facilities from local bank and on the credit, one can identify the risk groups. The services of banks and government agencies could also be used for the purpose, he says.

Equally important are the measures to be initiated for the support of the survivors of families traumatised by the suicide of a close relative, often the sole breadwinner. Not only that, the financial assistance should be disbursed with immediate effect at their doorstep and the families should be supported by the local groups through frequent visits and interaction.

Priority area

Issues like the education of children should be addressed to immediately so that the family could be brought back to the mainstream, Dr. Satheesh says.

According to him, in view of the present crisis, the implementation of the National Mental Health Programme has become a high priority area. This would bring mental health knowledge to the healthcare system at the periphery. While farmers have been identified as the single occupational group prone to suicide for the year 2002-03 (10.8 at the national level), their problems could not be addressed to in isolation. Given the fact that attempted suicides have been put at eight to ten times the actual incidents, the issue has to be looked into without delay, he says.

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