Suicide rates among Indians age 15-29 are the highest in the world, according to a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO). The most recent numbers available from 2012 show it as the leading cause of death among young women in India, and rates in the nation’s southern states were 10 times higher than those in northern states during that year.
A death from suicide occurs roughly every 40 seconds globally and causes more than 800,000 deaths annually. India alone accounted for nearly 260,000 suicide deaths in 2012, across all age groups, reports CNN, though young adults and teens were at a particular risk. Suicide has surpassed childbirth in India as the leading cause of death among young women for the first time, says the WHO report.
Roughly 75 percent of suicides occur in middle- and low-income countries, and only 28 countries are currently known to have strategies for prevention. Among the most common methods globally are firearms, hanging and pesticide poisoning and data collected from multiple developed countries suggests that limited access to such means can help to prevent suicides.
The findings in the report make the specifics of southern India’s rates all the more compelling by comparison. While the highest rates are among young women and citizens between 15 and 29 years of age in the nation’s south, global rates are highest among men and those 70 years and older. In high-income countries men commit suicide three times as often as women. Worldwide, women over 70 are twice as likely to kill themselves as women between 15-29 years of age.
According to Reuters, recent economic booms and rapid development in India are two major reasons for the high rates and that, with the improving markets, come job anxiety and pressure to achieve success among the nation’s youth. Income and literacy rates in southern Indian states are much higher than other parts of the country, and women face particular pressure, caught between education and economic success and a low cultural status and traditional societal expectations surrounding marriage and childbearing.
Mental health spending is also disproportionately low in India. According to Reuters, India has the second lowest national health budget in the world and spends only 0.06 of that budget on mental health care. Still, there is more mental health care spending now than just a few months ago when there was no mental health budget at all. Dr. Arun John from the Vandravela Foundation called for suicide helplines to be established, saying that, like any other illness, mental illness is treatable, but will require greater awareness around mental health issues.
The WHO cites cultural and religious stigma surrounding suicide, as well as the status of women in developing countries. Many religions openly forbid it, making it less likely for families and individuals to report suicidal behavior, let alone treat it. The WHO also puts pressure on the vast societal pressures faced by women in India and Muslim countries. Dowry vindications, arranged marriages and unequal rights are partially to blame for high instances of suicidal behavior in women, says another WHO report. India has begun to take steps towards reducing its suicide rates, says CNN, by fighting the stigma surrounding suicidal behavior and making it no longer illegal to attempt suicide.
By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa