Thursday, July 4, 2013

Suicide in India

Jiah Khan's suicide last month got me started on some interesting research about suicide in India, particularly suicide in the young adult (15-29) demographic. The results, I have to say, were rather shocking. I had no idea about how widespread the problem is, nor about the antiquated laws that surround it.

According to recent study by Lancet, suicide is the second-most common cause of death for those aged between 15 and 29 in India. In 2010 alone, over 114,000 males took their own lives. Of these, 40% were aged 15-29. About 56% of the 72,100 women that committed suicide were in the same age bracket. Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist and lead author of the report, stated that female suicides in India are quite often linked to relationships (including arranged/ forced marriages and as a consequence of domestic violence) In contrast, for men, the predominant reason was financial challenges and work.

Given that many of these deaths occur in the lower economic strata, self-poisoning with pesticide and hanging are the most common means of suicide. The deaths are usually much more painful and chances of survival lower than with means like overdosing on non-prescription drugs.

While public health interventions, for example, restricting access to pesticides, may aid preventing many suicides, there is a stronger underlying social issue that must be addressed to make a real impact. India has the second highest absolute number of suicides in the world, the leader in this case being China. As a relative rate, India is still significantly above the world average suicide rate.

The Lancet study went on to state that India’s suicide rate is approximately 16 per 100,000 individuals per annum. The comparative rate in the developed world, considering a countries like the USA and UK is about 75% of that rate.

One of the primary challenges, besides the soaring debt of farmers in rural areas, is that because of rapid urbanization, India has witnessed a change in family structure. Youngsters move out of joint families into nuclear families, and with this there is a substantial breakdown of the underlying social support structures.

Another major contributor to suicide, particularly in men in India, is that society does not typically allow males to express their emotions freely. Without an adequate social outlet for expression, it is quite common for frustration, depression and anxiety to take root. This is consistent with a 2011 study which indicates that India had the most dire rate of severe depression of 18 countries surveyed.

Of course, using the law to solve social challenges rarely works - as was demonstrated in the women's rights in India debacle earlier this year. In fact the same applies for other social challenges like Indian online casinos. In this case, getting rid of colonial laws like those imposing prison sentences for suicide survivors would be a great first step. Then, to acknowledge the problem as a serious mental health issue would be the next step. Psychiatric clinics in rural India are scarce at best, and the rate of suicide in rural India is almost twice as high as urban areas.

Unfortunately there is also still a stigma around receiving treatment for mental issues, including depression. It is these social attitudes that need to change if India is going to overcome its challenge.

Worldwide, up to one million people die by suicide every year, according to the World Health Organization. In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60%, says the WHO, and suicide is among the three leading causes of death among people aged 15 to 44.

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On a personal note, my projects with the NGO in Uganda are still ongoing. As always, I've still got my fingers crossed every time I venture out to play lottery online on this Indian website or suspend my better judgement and try my luck on USA online gambling sites like this in the hopes that I can raise enough funds to do all the social work I really want to do (yes, yes I know it's rather ironic given the social issues I write about on this blog!). In the meantime, and on a more practical note, I'm also looking to websites like TRAOK for innovative crowd-funding solutions to my financial challenges... they're about to launch a rather cool programme for social entrepreneurship - more on this soon!