Understanding the many buried stories in Indias suicide statistics
A study in the British journal Lancet has found that suicide is now reaching alarming levels in India,and educated young people are particularly at risk. Suicide is all set to overtake maternal deaths as the leading cause of death among young women,and rivals road accidents as a cause of death among young men.
Suicide is not a matter of individual psychology alone. Emile Durkheims classic study of suicide practically inaugurated the field of sociology,with its insight that suicide is about the interaction between self and society. It could result from feeling either cast off or too heavily encumbered by the world. It could be connected to anomie,the loss of personal bearings in a time of social and economic upheaval. It could be because of the loss of livelihoods or the thwarting of personal desires. While analysing this data and drawing inferences will be a delicate and difficult process,this study hints at a larger story. For instance,it is significant that suicide rates in the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh,Karnataka,Tamil Nadu and Kerala are nearly 10 times as high as the rest of India,despite their relative prosperity. Similarly,the fact that married women are at greater risk in India,compared with single,separated or widowed women,begs to be explored further.
Despite the sociological variability of suicide,the one factor we could have greater control over is psychiatric help. Given our already constrained medical infrastructure,access to mental health services is even more limited there are few helplines,fewer specialists or sanctuaries. Depression,anxiety and substance abuse are not even acknowledged as real problems. There may be no single fix for the kind of despair that makes people give up on the world and on themselves,but a greater focus on mental health may be one useful step forward.