Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide.
800,000-odd people commit suicide every year.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds.
While these are worldwide statistics released by World Health Organisation (WHO), the situation in India is equally alarming. The nation accounts for over a third of the world's annual female suicides and nearly a fourth of male suicides, a significant rise in global share since 1990.
In fact, if Indian states were countries, three states (Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal) would have the third, fourth and fifth worst rates of female suicide in the world, recent data shows. Only Greenland and Lesotho are worse.
Men commit suicide at a higher rate across the world. India has not been able to lower the suicide rate among men, as per data compiled during a research which formed part of the 2016 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors (GBD 2016), a worldwide database of health indicators. Further, India has the sixth highest female suicide death rate in the world, the study found.
It also found that young people in India die predominantly of suicide: for both sexes in India, suicide was the leading cause of death among those aged 15-39 in 2016.
These findings by Rakhi Dandona, a researcher at Public Health Foundation of India, and her colleagues, was published in the medical journal, The Lancet Public Health, last year.
National Herald spoke to several experts on the subject, on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, which is observed every year today, September 10.
Dr Om Prakash, Associate Professor at Delhi-based Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), expressed concern at the high suicide rates among the youth.
“There are many factors at play which make college and even school students susceptible to depression and anxiety which may lead them to attempt suicide. This may include substance abuse, performance anxiety, bullying, cyber-bullying, insecurity about future employment prospects, family problems etc,” he said.
“The biggest problem is that due to low awareness as well as stigma about mental health issues in society, suicidal thoughts or warning signs go undetected and unreported. Even if someone does report feeling depressed or anxious, they may undergo counselling at the school or college level which is fine, but there’s a dire need to detect symptoms of severe depression which needs intervention by a trained psychiatric,” he added.
Commenting about the gender difference in cases of suicide, he said that while females were more likely to attempt the same, males generally succeeded at it.
He also expressed concern about the lack of avenues available to any individual contemplating suicide. “Some NGOs run suicide helplines but there’s a clear need for the government to take the initiative to set up a dedicated pan-India helpline run professionally as they do in Western countries,” he said.
Astha Ahluwalia, Senior Counsellor at Gurgaon-based Reboot Wellness, expressed the need to ‘change the narrative’ about mental health issues in order to address extreme behaviours like suicide, which she said, “should never be an option”.
She also underscored the need to impart specialised training and sensitisation to mental health professionals at all levels to deal with such issues, as well as promotion of emotional development among those vulnerable to falling prey to conditions such as severe depression.
“There is still a great deal of bias and stigma associated with mental health issues in society in general. A great deal of awareness needs to be spread that it’s alright to discus and address them. Our message at Reboot Wellness is simple and loud and clear: Let’s just talk about it!” she said during a conversation with National Herald.
“We need to create an open and conducive environment where everyone is comfortable talking about any mental health issue, whether it’s educational institutions like schools and colleges or in the corporate sector, where stress levels are generally higher,” she said.
“Most importantly, media plays a powerful role, especially movies or TV serials, which I feel often act irresponsibly by depicting an extreme step like suicide in such a way that it amounts to normalising the act,” she added.
National Herald also had a conversation with Dr Anil Singh Shekhawat, who earned a post-graduation in psychiatry from AIIMS, Delhi before joining Gurgaon-based SGT Medical College as a Senior Resident.
“If everyone ended their life for their problems, this world will be left with no humans. Ending your life may or may not be a solution for you but it certainly is a bigger problem for those you leave behind,” he says.
“Acts of suicide are under-reported and often go unnoticed,” he pointed out.
This is indeed a grave aspect of the problem. According to the ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ report brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 130,000 suicides in India in 2015, the most recent year for which data was available. That’s 100,000 fewer suicides than the estimate made by Dandona et al, or a decrease of 77 per cent!
“The decriminalisation of suicide in 2017 is expected to have a major role in access to mental health treatment and possible reduction in under-reporting and stigma associated with suicide,” the authors wrote. The first step in addressing India’s suicide crisis would indeed be to record suicide deaths accurately, and acknowledge the gravity of the crisis.
Dr Shekhawat also shared a list of ‘suicide myths versus facts’ with National Herald, as reproduced below:
The bottom line is suicide is never the answer. Getting help is the answer.