India has only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people
Suicide, a profoundly sensitive and distressing issue, reverberates through the lives of individuals, families, and entire communities across the globe.
In recent years, suicide has taken centre stage in India.
In some parts of the country, pressures from society, economic challenges, and the stigma around mental health has raised the suicide rate.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there was a 7.1% increase in suicide deaths between 2020 and 2021.
As of 2019, The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that India has the 41st highest suicide rate in the world.
Due to these unsettling statistics, what measures has India put in place to combat the scourge of suicides?
Is the nation finally opening a dialogue around this issue and self-harm, or does it still have a long way to go?
Warning: The following content contains examples and references to suicide.
The Silent Crisis: Suicide in India
Before delving into the solutions, it’s essential to understand the magnitude of the problem. In reference to India, the WHO outlines:
“The suicide mortality rate per 100,000 population in 2016 was 16.5, while the global average was 10.5 per 100,000.”
This stark number underscores the urgency of addressing suicide as a public health crisis.
Suicide in India is a complex issue influenced by various socioeconomic, cultural, and individual factors.
Identifying the biggest reasons for suicide requires a multifaceted approach. Here are some of the primary factors:
Mental Health Issues:
According to the National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16, around 13.7% of the population suffers from various mental disorders.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues often go untreated due to stigma, lack of awareness, and inadequate infrastructure.
Economic difficulties, such as unemployment, poverty, and financial instability, can be significant contributors to suicide.
A study published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal in 2020 found that job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic in India was associated with an increased risk of suicide.
India’s societal expectations and cultural norms can place immense pressure on individuals, especially in areas related to marriage, family, and career.
A report by the NCRB for 2019 revealed that marriage-related issues were a leading cause of suicide among women.
Access to Lethal Means:
Easy access to lethal means, such as pesticides, is a significant concern in India, especially in rural areas.
A study published in The Lancet Public Health in 2018 estimated that pesticide self-poisoning accounted for 30% of global suicides, with a significant portion occurring in India.
Stigma and Shame:
The stigma surrounding mental health issues and suicide is pervasive in India, preventing many individuals from seeking help.
According to a study by the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine in 2014, 71% of Indian respondents believed that mental illness was due to a lack of self-discipline and willpower.
Gender-based violence, discrimination, and unequal opportunities can contribute to higher suicide rates among women.
The NCRB reported that the suicide rate among women in India was 15.8% higher than the global average in 2019.
Intense academic competition and the pressure to perform well in exams can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety, particularly among students.
India has one of the highest student suicide rates globally, with over 10,000 student suicides reported in 2019, according to NCRB data.
Lack of Mental Health Infrastructure:
India faces a severe shortage of mental health professionals and facilities.
As of 2021, there were only 0.3 psychiatrists and 0.07 psychologists per 100,000 people.
This shortage results in limited access to mental healthcare services.
Substance abuse, including alcohol and drug addiction, can be both a cause and a consequence of mental health issues and may contribute to suicidal behaviors.
The World Drug Report 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime highlights the growing issue of drug abuse in India.
It’s important to note that these factors are interconnected, and individual cases of suicide may involve a combination of several factors.
Addressing the suicide crisis in India requires comprehensive efforts, including improving mental health services, reducing stigma, and providing economic support.
Initiatives: A Step in the Right Direction?
In recent years, the Indian government has taken steps to address the suicide crisis.
The National Mental Health Programme (NMHP) is one such initiative aimed at providing accessible mental healthcare services.
Additionally, the Mental Healthcare Act, of 2017, decriminalised suicide attempts, a significant shift that promotes understanding and compassion.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have played a crucial role in bridging gaps in mental health support.
Organisations like Snehi and Roshni have established helplines that offer emotional support and guidance to individuals in distress.
Roshni, based in Hyderabad, receives around 700 calls a day.
In India, several initiatives and programs have been put in place to address the critical issue of suicide prevention.
These efforts are designed to lower the suicide rate, promote awareness about mental health, and offer assistance to those facing crises. Here are some key initiatives in India:
National Mental Health Programme (NMHP):
The NMHP is a comprehensive government programme that aims to provide accessible mental healthcare services to all segments of the population.
Its primary focus is on early detection, treatment, and rehabilitation for individuals with mental illnesses.
Additionally, NMHP emphasises community involvement, awareness campaigns, and the integration of mental health services into primary healthcare systems.
Mental Healthcare Act, 2017:
The Mental Healthcare Act passed in 2017, is a significant legislative milestone aimed at safeguarding the rights of individuals with mental illnesses.
Notably, it decriminalises suicide attempts and mandates that all individuals with mental illnesses receive treatment based on their informed consent.
Various organisations and government bodies have established around-the-clock helplines to provide immediate support to individuals facing emotional distress.
For instance, organisations like Roshni and Snehi offer emotional support and crisis intervention through their helplines.
Rural and Community Mental Health Services:
Efforts have been made to extend mental health services to rural and underserved regions of India.
This includes training community health workers to identify individuals with mental health concerns and provide basic support.
Telemedicine and Online Counselling:
Telemedicine and mental health applications have become increasingly popular in India, offering convenient access to mental health professionals, particularly in remote areas.
Organisations such as the Vandrevala Foundation and iCall provide online counselling and support services.
School and College Programmes:
Several initiatives promote mental health awareness and well-being among students in educational institutions.
These programmes aim to reduce academic stress and foster emotional resilience.
The ‘Manodarpan’ programme, for instance, was launched to provide psychological support to students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prominent Indian celebrities have openly shared their personal experiences with mental health issues.
Their advocacy efforts have helped reduce stigma and encourage others to seek help.
For instance, Deepika Padukone founded the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health.
Continuous research and data collection efforts are crucial for understanding the evolving landscape of mental health and suicide in India.
Institutions like the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) are at the forefront of these efforts.
While these initiatives represent significant progress, challenges like the shortage of mental health professionals and ongoing stigma persist.
Therefore, addressing suicide prevention in India requires sustained efforts across various fronts.
The Need for Increased Awareness and Outreach
While India’s efforts to prevent suicides are commendable, significant challenges remain.
Insufficient mental health infrastructure, a shortage of mental health professionals, and inadequate funding for mental health programs continue to hinder progress.
The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) outlines that India has only one psychiatrist for every 343,000 people.
This is a stark contrast to the recommended ratio of one psychiatrist per 10,000 – 20,000 people.
The question “Is India doing anything to prevent suicides?” can be answered with cautious optimism.
While the country still grapples with the enormity of the suicide crisis, there are signs of progress.
Government initiatives, NGOs, and increased awareness campaigns have begun to shift the narrative surrounding mental health.
However, substantial challenges, including the stigma associated with mental health, a shortage of professionals, and inadequate funding, persist.
To make meaningful strides in suicide prevention, India must prioritise mental health and suicide prevention as a fundamental aspects of public health.
This entails not only increased funding and infrastructure but also widespread education and awareness.
Mental health should be viewed as an integral part of overall well-being, rather than a taboo subject to be hidden away.
As India continues to grapple with the complex issue of suicide, it’s crucial for individuals, communities, and policymakers to work together.
By acknowledging the problem, India can move towards a future where suicide is not a crisis but a preventable tragedy.