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Mumbai: open letter to top cop, lists steps to curb suicides in force

Mumbai: In less than a month, two policemen have committed suicide in Mumbai. This has led a senior psychiatrist to write an open letter to the Mumbai policecommissioner, asking him to appoint a dedicated officer to monitor the mental health of policemen. Dr Harish Shettyhas listed 33 steps that can help the force improve its personnel's mental health.

Attached to Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital in Powai, Shetty said, "Keeping in mind the present situation, we need to have an IPS-rank person to be appointed as mental health commissioner who will oversee the health and mental health of policemen. Even municipal corporations should have a dedicated person for the same."

Shetty said suicides have increased all over the country. "To believe that suicide in the force is due to work stress alone is incorrect. Globalisation, alienation, inflation and collapse of systems are contributing factors," he added.

He also said a policeman brings a lot of emotional baggage from his family. "Mental health vigilance and intervention may only help decrease the number of suicides but not stop them completely. Reasons for the suicide of API Shirke discussed in the media are frivolous; a serious psychological autopsy should be carried out. It will provide lessons to prevent such tragedies in the future," said Shetty.

He emphasised on the need to screen policemen for depression and suicide every month. "Those who report their mental illness and treatment from private practitioners should be given cash incentives," he added.

Saying that incidences of suicide, murder, rape and other offences by police personnel are interlinked, the psychiatrist warned, "A police mutiny is around the corner, with dehumanisation, hostility, sadness and anger building up among the constabulary. This is an emergency situation and needs to be tackled in right earnest."

"All suicides/homicides should undergo a psychological autopsy to understand the process. Frivolous reasons based on hearsay and superficial inquiries should not be publicised. Suicide is a complex process," said Shetty.

He said to lessen the workload of policemen, security for festivals, marriages and other private functions should be outsourced to private agencies and supervised by the police. "VIP movement and security should be handled by a separate force, such as CISF," said Shetty.

A few suggestions

Automatic recording of all calls to police stations on land lines and cell phones should be done.

Regular check-ups, both physical and mental, must be carried out.

Sustained emotional enrichment programmes should be organised, so that policemen do not hide their mental illness.

All requests by politicians and others to any personnel should be made in written format.

All government and municipal hospitals should have special outpatient/inpatient services for personnel and they should get priority treatment.

A mental health helpline for all police personnel and their families should be set up.

There should be welfare activities for constables and other policemen, as practised in the Armed Forces for wives of army personnel.

Cases of neglect and corruption should be investigated and punishments meted out in fast-track courts.

Subsidised healthy diet should be made a must in every police station.

The commando force handling weapons need to be screened for mental health every two weeks.

Policemen themselves should be trained to counsel their colleagues, provide emotional first aid and help in early detection of critical cases.

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