Suicide Prevention – a Challenge in India

Dr. Raminder Jit Singh
The word “Suicide” has been defined as an act in which person kills himself or intentional self-slaughter, or undertaking a mission involving his own death, or action destructive to one’s own interests. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds. It is a social evil and a threat to mankind and humanity itself as a whole.
An increase in number of suicides is an alarming situation and matter of great concern in India. According to World Health Organization (WHO) Suicide is an emerging and a serious public health issue in India. The most vulnerable and affected age group is between 15-29 years. The suicide mortality rate per 100 000 population in India is 15.7; the global average is 10.7 per 100 000.
According to the report on statistics available on the ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ published by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt. of India during the decade (2005-2015) India recorded an increase of 17.3% (1,33,623 in 2015 from 1,13,914 in 2005). The increase in number of suicides was reported each year till 2011 thereafter a declining trend has been noticed till 2014 and it again increased by 1.5% in 2015 over 2014 (from 1,31,666 suicides in 2014 to 1,33,623 suicides in 2015).
Suicides in India are generally committed due to failure in examinations, quarrel with parents-in-law, quarrel with spouse, divorce, dowry, love affairs, cancellation or the inability to get married , illegitimate pregnancy, extra-marital affairs and conflicts relating to the issue of marriage, all these factors play a crucial role, particularly in the suicide of women in India. A distressing feature is the frequent occurrence of suicide pacts and family suicides, which are more due to social reasons and can be viewed as a protest against archaic societal norms and expectations.
India is beset with numerous major health problems like infectious diseases, malnutrition, maternal and infant mortality and hence, suicide prevention is accorded low priority. The mental health services are inadequate for the needs of the country of billion plus people. The diminishing traditional family support systems leave people vulnerable to suicidal behavior. A person with suicidal tendency needs someone in whom he could confide and off-load some of his apprehensions and problems. If he finds someone who listens to him, his suicidal tendencies diminish to large extent, hence there is an emerging need for external emotional support. The enormity of the problem combined with the paucity of mental health service has led to the emergence of NGOs in the field of suicide prevention. The NGO’s can undertake the task of informing and educating the public about the problem of suicide through various mass media like television, radio, newspapers, magazines, etc. The humane touch and elderly advice of the personnel of these centers can help a lot in providing much needed support to the individuals with suicidal ideation.
The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 decriminalizes the attempt to commit suicide, assuring adequate medical relief to those who attempt suicide, thus protecting them from the harsh aftermath but still there is an urgent need to develop a plan for suicide prevention both at State and national level in India. The priority areas should involve reducing the availability of and access to pesticides, reducing alcohol availability and consumption, promoting responsible media reporting of suicide and related issues, promoting and supporting NGOs, involving religious leaders, improving the capacity of primary care workers and specialist mental health services and providing psychiatric evaluation and treatment to people who have attempted suicide, training teachers and police officers.
10th September – World Suicide Prevention Day:
The World Suicide Prevention Day was formally announced on 10th September, 2003. Each year the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) in collaboration with World Health Organization (WHO) uses this day to call attention to suicide as a leading cause of premature death. The most important aim of this initiative is raising awareness among the scientific community and the general population that suicide is preventable. The theme for the years 2019 and 2020 is “Working Together to Prevent Suicide.” The theme stresses we all have a role to play and together we can collectively address the challenges presented by suicidal behaviour in society today.
Suicide Prevention in India requires integrative strategies that encompass work at the individual, systems and community level. Joining together is critical to preventing suicides in India else it will continue to pose challenge to India of 21st Century.
(The author is Founder of Suicide Prevention Organization ‘THE – SARA’)