Rapidly rising suicide rates become the second biggest killer after road accidents in Bhutan
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.
Chencho Dema / Thimphu