We All Know Of At Least One Death By Suicide; What Could Have Prevented It?

Posted: September 9, 2019

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Suicide rates by women in India are exceptionally high by global standards. Among these, Indian housewives is a very large percentage. Let’s get to the bottom of this.

“Smita (assumed name) heard voices and saw hallucinations. Her family had her institutionalised. One day they were informed of her death by suicide. Nobody knows her complete story.”

“Rukhsaar (assumed name) felt suicidal ever since she was a medical student, but with her mentor’s guidance, she received help and therapy and now manages her BPD well and isn’t suicidal.”

World Suicide Prevention Day

Ever since its announcement on 10th September, 2003 as the World Suicide Prevention Day, the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) commemorates it in collaboration with WHO. This day is used globally to bring focus to suicide prevention, and death by suicide as a leading cause of premature and preventable death.

The theme for the year 2019 is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide”.  Don’t we all know at least one sad story about suicide from around us, sometimes more?

It remains a global issue as the statistics from IASP tell us that somewhere in the world there is 1 suicide every 40 seconds. Each such death is not just a loss of a precious human life, but the person is also somebody’s child, sibling, spouse, parent, friend, colleague and/or neighbour, and hence each such death has a long-lasting and far-reaching effect psychologically as well as socio-economically in many cases.

Suicide statistics in India

Suicide is of huge psycho-social importance in particularly the Indian context.

Estimates suggest that more than one lakh lives are lost every year to death by suicide in India. In just the last two decades, the rate of suicide rate has risen from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000. The number of people with suicidal behaviour is much larger as it includes suicidal behaviour and suicidal ideation. Thinking about suicide, multiple suicide attempts are more common but often brushed under the carpet.

Earlier this year the Vice President of India, realising the expanse of this issue called for putting in place a National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Indian women and suicides

According to a study by Lancet Public Health, in 2017, India had a staggering share of 37 per cent of all suicides globally for women and 26 per cent for men. These suicide rates by women in India are exceptionally high by global standards.

There were reports and data about suicide by housewives in India increasing and consistent in the last few years. Experts indicate that the complex socio-cultural fabric of Indian society is essentially sexist and misogynist, and the high rate of housewife suicides can thus be attributed to this double jeopardy of gender and health related discrimination.

Various studies indicate socio-cultural situations like preference for a male child, love affairs gone wrong, unwanted pregnancy, dowry, divorce, women being single after a certain age group considered aberration in India conventionally, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs, conflicts related to marriage and family, and sexual harassment etc. play a crucial role as triggers for suicidal behaviour in women in India.

Globalisation has led to a huge change in how Indian women live today. Their aspirations for education, employment and equality are new so to say. Sadly, our conventional society has failed to keep pace with these changes – women are also now doubly-marginalised; they are expected to study and earn, and keep fulfilling all the traditional roles too – and hence the conflicts leading to mental health crisis sometimes leading to suicidal behaviour.

Suicide prevention: The way forward

According to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-2016 submitted by NIMHANS to the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, a lot of Indians are actually in need of active medical/ clinical/ therapeutic  intervention for mental health issues. Women by and large get pushed away even from these scanty support systems too because of their gender related and socio-cultural hurdles in our society.

Other countries have successful models where social media platforms like Facebook were used in suicide prevention. The Durkheim project is one such project that was undertaken to prevent suicide in American veterans. It is believed that many such situations can be handled better and quicker if people responded to suicidal ideation or content/messages on Facebookit is quickly reported to the police, and potential victims are offered immediate support through NGOs and suicidal helplines.

In India the Mental Health Act 2017 has at least decriminalised suicide and a survivor is no longer charged by law. But more resources, strategic research and programmes, awareness, and breaking of stigma and taboo are needed in order to mainstream suicide prevention as a policy. 

And all of this with special focus on one of the most vulnerable groups in view of mental health in India – Indian women.

If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call. 

Aasra, Mumbai: 022 27546669

Sneha, Chennai: 044 2464 0050

Lifeline, Kolkata: 033 2474 4704

Sahai, Bangalore: 080 25497777

Roshni, Hyderabad: 040 66202000, 040 66202001

Image source: Unsplash

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Pooja Priyamvada is a columnist, professional translator and an online content and Social Media consultant.

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