September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, dedicated to raising awareness of mental health and working towards preventing one of its most tragic outcomes which is all too frequent. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one person dies by suicide every forty seconds worldwide.
“Suicide is a global public health issue,” says the WHO and, on this observance, it is imperative that India takes note. Its suicide rate is the highest in the southeast Asia region with 16.5 deaths by suicide for every 100,000 people. According to the Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF), one person dies every four minutes as a result of suicide with family issues and illness being the dominant causes. In 2015, the SPIF says, 1.33 lakh people took their own life in India – more suicides than in any country in the world.
Among young people, suicide is a leading cause of death; in fact, among people aged ten to 24, suicide is the main cause of mortality. Concerningly, the crisis seems to be worsening. Between 2007 and 2016, suicides among students increased by 52 percent with 750,000 such deaths recorded in that period. Compared to 2007, when seventeen students committed suicide each day on average, the figure rose to 26 suicides a day by 2016.
As previously reported by Health Issues India, student suicides have reached enormous proportions. The inaccessibility of mental healthcare compounds and, in many respects, drives the crisis. This is reflective of mental healthcare at the national level, which is riddled with shortfalls and inadequacies despite mental health issues among the Indian population being prevalent.
Mental health issues affect approximately ten percent of Indians, with 56 million experiencing depression and 38 million affected by anxiety disorders. Yet, despite the high numbers, there is a sizeable treatment gap plaguing mental healthcare across the country. Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare figures released earlier this year suggested a treatment gap of between fifty and seventy percent, with staffing shortages a major issue. For the approximately 150 million Indians in need of mental healthcare, just 898 clinical psychologists and 3,800 psychiatrists are available.
As well as inaccessible treatment, the prevalence of stigma presents a major obstacle. Shattering the stigma is something many have attempted to do, in the form of campaigns run by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences; a recent partnership between the SPIF and TikTok to raise awareness of suicide prevention; and high-level political figures including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind speaking out about mental health issues. Addressing stigma and shortfalls are two of the ways of working towards easing India’s silent mental health crisis and reducing its suicide burden – one, lest we forget, which is the highest in its region and, concerning young people, is actually the highest in the world.
“Every death is a tragedy for family, friends and colleagues,” says WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Yet suicides are preventable. We call on all countries to incorporate proven suicide prevention strategies into national health and education programmes in a sustainable way.”
Contact details for mental health support in India can be accessed here.
If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.
The WHO report on suicide, “Preventing suicide: a resource for pesticide registrars and regulators”, can be accessed here.