Published On: Fri, Nov 1st, 2013

Rapidly rising suicide rates become the second biggest killer after road accidents in Bhutan

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The youth are particularly vulnerable with a very high share of the suicides

A spate of suicide cases in recent weeks and months are pointing to a dramatic increase in suicide rates in Bhutan in the recent years, especially among the youth.

Just earlier this week on October 31, a young woman in her 20s, ended her life by hanging herself inside her room in Phuentsholing. In another incident, within the same week, a male youth in Thimphu committed suicide in his house by hanging.

The increasing numbers and incidents point towards an emerging public health crisis, necessitating a national effort to develop effective interventions to curb suicide.

In the span of four years from 2010 till October 2013, a total of 293 cases of suicide were reported with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP).

The figures show that suicide rates in general are going up in Bhutan. In 2010 there were 57 suicide cases, in 2011 it was 65, in 2012 it climbed to 88 and in 2013 till October the suicide numbers are already 83 and counting.

However, a major source of worry is that of the total 293 suicide cases across all age groups the highest suicide rates is in the youth age category of 18 to 25 years. This 18 to 25 year old demography alone account for an unusually high 105 suicide cases.

This category of youth has also seen an overall and notice able increase in suicide rates in the last four years.

In 2010, 24 youth had taken their own lives. In 2011, the number decreased slightly to 21 cases but rose to 27 cases last year. While this year, till date the number have already reached a whopping 33 cases.

There are more male youths committing suicide compared to female youths according to the figures compiled with the police for the last four years. The number of male youth suicide cases recorded is 65, while the female suicide cases stand at 40.

Thimphu records the highest number of suicide cases as compared to other dzongkhags with 15 cases, followed by Samtse with 14 cases, Sarpang with 12 cases and Trashigang with 11 cases in the last four years.

Gasa and Zhemgang are the only districts in the country with zero record youth-related suicide cases.

Dr Damber Kumar Nirola, a psychiatrist with Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital said, “Although successfully completed suicide is virtually non-existent in children under 5 and rare in children 6-12, the suicide rate in adolescence is significant and is rapidly increasing. In the 15 to 24-year-old age group, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Girls attempt suicide three times more as frequently as boys; however, boys complete suicide two to three times as frequently as girls.”

“Most have very low self-esteem. Prior to their suicide attempts there are may be difficulties in other areas of life (such as failure in school, trouble with law, or the end of a romantic relationship) that further lower self-esteem,” he wrote.

Except for a few cases where victims leave suicide notes, police are not aware of the reasons or cause of suicide.

Dr Nirola said suicide among the youth is mainly due to the inability to cope with stress and also due to the fact that the youths of today lacked adequate physiological resilience.

“When the youth go through stress severely they tend to take harsh and impulsive decision which ultimately results in their death,” the doctor added.

Depression has been attributed as one of the major factors behind suicides.

Dr Nirola said suicide can be prevented to some extent, but it will take time and a lot of ground work. “Unfortunately due to lack of resource persons, we cannot go to the field as we are busy treating the people,” he added.

While studies have reported that suicide can be contagious as a trend, especially among teenagers Dr Nirola said, “It is difficult to say, but at times, youth do copy suicides as they feel that the best thing to end their stress is to commit suicide.” Research shows that one person’s suicide can influence another person’s suicidal thoughts or behavior, and this is particularly seen among younger adolescents.

Dr Nirola said parents have a big role to play in the lives of the youth. “Ignorance of the parents towards children’s emotions and lack of proper counseling can also attribute to suicide. Parents should not underestimate the mental problem of the children.” He said that the parents should be sensitive about children’s emotions, communicate much rather than just fulfilling their needs, but deal with their emotions and boost their physiological well being.

Some youth in similar age category that the paper talked too responded that the main reasons might be depression and lack of care for such youth.

Dawa Tshering, a 25-year-old from Lhuentse said, “There is not much the government can do on such cases, but parents have a vital role to play. Parents should communicate more with the children.”

Sangay Tshering, 26, a businessman based in Thimphu said, “The counseling system in the country is very poor and must be improved. The way counseling is provided now should be changed with the change in the lifestyle of the youth. Suicide is becoming like a fashion these days.”

Tenzin Norden 26, runner-up for Miss Bhutan 2010 said, “I think it’s mainly because of lack of will power and self-confidence. If we have the will power and self-confidence, then we will be able to face any problem .”“Youth these days lack the will power which ultimately leads to depression, and when it’s too much for them, they resort to committing suicide,” she added.

Some of the parents that this paper spoke to pointed out that schools should introduce counseling session as a curriculum in the school and invite parents once a week to communicate with the children.

Sonam Choden, a mother of two said that counseling should not only be limited to Thimphu and it should be conducted in other dzongkhags frequently too. “With just psychiatry, it is not possible to help those undergoing depression, in fact there should be more psychiatry wards established with enough resource. I think government should think about the issue seriously before more of our youth become victims of suicide.”

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an average of 3,000 people commit suicide daily all over the world, and for every person who completes a suicide, 20 or more may attempt to end their lives making it the third leading cause of death among the people aged 15 to 44 in the world. The World Suicide Prevention Day celebrated on the September 10, every year promotes worldwide commitment and actions to prevent suicides.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth and adults in Bhutan, second only to motor-vehicle traffic related accidents.


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Chencho Dema / Thimphu


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  1. Sangay says:

    Each time there is an article on suicide, I noticed that a psychiatrist is interviewed or quoted. This is good, but psychiatrists are experts who treat manifested symptoms that may lead up to suicide, but not experts on structural causes and conditions. Way back in 19th century a French sociologist called Emile Durkheim wrote about ‘social anomie’, a breakdown in social bonds and a loss of meaning and values as leading to suicide. I believe he was right, and I think a discussion along how we can structure society to create a strong sense of belongingness and meaning to every individual will be in order.

  2. My 21 year old Thai daughter has lost three Bhutanese friends in this last year. All male and all due to suicide.

    The previous government spent five years preaching to the world about Gross National Happiness while failing to address the growing problems ‘back home’. It told the world that Bhutan was unique.

    Bhutan is not unique. It is going through the same growing pains that Europe went through in the nineteenth century with the move from an agrarian to an urban/industrial society. It is dealing with social changes that in the past might have taken place over several generations but are now happening within a single generation.

    Bhutanese parents who grew up with no television are now having to deal with their Facebook-connected children. This is what the last government completely failed to understand as it told the world that all was hunky-dory in the Land of GNH.

    Hopefully the next five years will see the ship being steadied by a more down-to-earth government with more genuine support being given to the inevitable development of the country rather than the trite “we are different, we have GNH” philosophy of before. Then, hopefully, the Bhutanese youth will feel they are a meaningful part of their society and not apart from it.

  3. good says:

    Thank God PDP is in power, otherwise, the CEO of this paper would have somehow blamed this problem on the DPT.

  4. Sherig says:

    This societal menace has to do with the type of education that we are giving to our children to-day. We can not blame them but our type of Bhutanese so called educated parents who studied outside Bhutan who lost cultural link of Bhutanese way of life. It is high time that we overhaul our education system which should be relevant to GNH concept and then introduce traditional education system where emphasis is made on mental development along with modern education. The ancient wisdom must be imparted to the modern mind which entails producing right kind of teachers from our training institutes. The present group of teachers graduating from these institutes are not tailord with such knowledge and hence our children are deprived of right education at the right time.

  5. Jagpala says:

    All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows one, as the wheel follows the foot of the ox that draws the wagon.
    All that we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts. It is made up of our thoughts. If one speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows one, like a shadow that never leaves.

  6. Bhutan Beau says:

    That’s a very mean comment ‘Good’ on a very sensitive topic. Grow up.

  7. Jawa says:

    The root causes of suffering should be known by the Buddhists and most of Bhutanese are increasingly becoming materialistic owing to our educational system. The concept of GNH will be meaningless unless we understand the causes of suffering. In fact Buddhadharma must be viewed as medicine for illness, the skilful doctor to Buddha and the nurses that encourage us and show us how to take the medicines are the Buddhist Community or Sangha.Now each member of Sangha or community has become so greedy and individualistic that that does not want to share. Without sharing one’s happiness with other is incomplete and we all should be prepared to even share the sufferings of the community. Toady we see many people clinging to their positions of their authority and they already had lion’s share yet never prepared to vacate and make way to happiness for other people. As a matter of fact, one experiences true happiness by seeing the happiness of other people. Ofcourse one has to practice them to experience it.

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