Kerala cop suicide rate stays high; support group takes fight to mental trauma

Initiative of Ekm rural division, group meets weekly to review activities, address complaints
Representative image
Representative image

KOCHI: With suicide deaths among members of the police force remaining high, Ernakulam Rural division has taken the welcome step of launching a support group that would assist officers facing mental trauma and other issues.

The initiative, possibly the first of its kind in Kerala, comes at a time when last week alone five cops died by suicide across the state due to work stress, family, and financial issues. The support group, a brainchild of Ernakulam Rural police chief Vaibhav Saxena, operates under the guidance of the additional district superintendent of police (ADSP) and is overseen by Ernakulam Range DIG Putta Vimaladitya.

Since 2019, 81 state police officers have committed suicide, with Ernakulam district also reporting several cases.

In March, the body of K R Baburaj, a 49-year-old sub-inspector with Aluva East station, was found hanging from a tree near his home in Puliyanam, Angamaly. He had been transferred to Aluva East station after a long stint with the special branch and had reportedly struggled to come to terms with the transfer.

Representative image
ASP to probe suicide of Kerala cop allegedly mistreated by fellow police officers

In another case last year, Ernakulam Rural police appointed an ASP to investigate the suicide of Jobi Das, a 48-year-old driver with the Armed Reserve Police Camp in Kalamassery. Jobi hanged himself after the alleged machinations of a few colleagues, which denied him a salary increment, left him deeply upset.

In his suicide note, Jobi advised his two children against pursuing a job with the department.

Saxena said the support group has been receiving positive feedback. “The group meets weekly to review activities and address complaints. Upon receiving a complaint or identifying an issue, the group quickly assesses the situation and implements the necessary corrective measures without delay. The primary goal is the speedy resolution of issues and ensuring fair treatment for all,” he said.

Many of the problems police personnel face, ranging from family issues to alcoholism, stem from an inability to spend sufficient time with family or friends due to the unpredictable nature of their duties. They may apply for leave but are often called back for emergencies such as strikes or natural disasters, which may require immediate, long-distance travel. This unpredictability can cause significant mental health challenges, and some officers turn to alcohol to cope, leading to further issues at home. The new support programme addresses these concerns by providing counselling, resolving service-related issues, and offering de-addiction support. A key objective is to ensure officers are granted their eligible leaves, allowing them to spend maximum time with their families.

“The support group includes officers and ministerial staff. It identifies officers dealing with mental or physical stress, family issues, or bad habits like drinking and drug abuse, and provides counselling,” an officer involved with the initiative said.

If an officer faces severe financial difficulties, the group offers planning and assistance to help them overcome the crisis. The group also supports families during disciplinary action, as officers under suspension receive only 35-40% of their salary, impacting the family budget. “At these times, the support group intervenes to provide necessary aid,” the officer said.

Applying for leave is usually a lengthy process in the department, but the support group expedites it by having a ministerial staff representative quickly act on the application, minimising delays. This approach also applies to resolving service-related issues.

Officers struggling with alcoholism or other bad habits often find it difficult to discuss their problems with superiors but can confide in members of the support group. The group provides a safe space for officers to share any issues and find effective solutions, said another officer.

Shinodas S R, president of the Kerala Police Association, welcomed the initiative.

“Such support groups will be established in all police districts. It is crucial to address the underlying factors contributing to officers’ feelings of insecurity. Each group should include trusted officials to whom affected officers can open up to. This approach is essential for effectively addressing their issues,” he said.

(If you are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about a friend or need emotional support, someone is always there to listen. Call Sneha Foundation - 04424640050, Tele Manas - 14416 (available 24x7) or iCall, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences' helpline - 02225521111, which is available Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 10 pm.)

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