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Increasing suicide and its severity in South Asia

On Sunday, June 14th, 2020, a rising Indian star took his life in his apartment. This incident made huge noise in Bollywood and social media. This brought the attention of the world again towards increasing suicide in South Asia.

According to a report by WHO, India has the highest suicide rate in South Asia. Sri Lanka stands second and Thailand stands third in the region. 39% of global suicides are happening in just 11 countries in this region. These numbers show a gloomy situation of suicide in South Asia.

Women being the most vulnerable

In this region, women are particularly the most vulnerable for a variety of social and cultural reasons. In India alone, the female suicide rates are hiking. According to WHO, 124,282 women died by suicide in this region.

Women in the lower and middle classes are especially vulnerable to suicide. Whereas the males are not that much affected. The above numbers also reflect that half of the global suicides in women occurred in this region.

The suicide rates are much higher in developing countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Indonesia. These numbers show the grim reality of how much suicide is happening at alarming rates.

Socio-cultural factors at play

Social and cultural factors are often leading factors behind increasing suicide in South Asia. A study shows that suicide was prevailing among the lower-middle-class women in India. As the practice of dowry is still in place, this leads up to a pressure buildup.

Forced Marriages

Forced and arranged marriages that leave women to trap in unwanted situations also becomes a factor behind suicide. Many women opt for suicide as a means of escape.

Unrequited Love

Unrequited love is also becoming a reason behind suicide. As young couples love each other and their families disapprove of the relationship. Which often prompt them to take suicide as a mean of escape.

Prevailing Pregnancy-related suicide

In the South-Asian region, the social pressure to bear children puts pressure on women. This also leads up to suicides. According to the 2014 meta-analysis, the suicides rates related to pregnancy was around 2.9%. These numbers are shocking which shows how society puts pressure on individuals.

Domestic Violence

In many cases, domestic violence is seen as a leading reason for increasing suicide in South Asia. Domestic violence is a common practice in this region. In an international survey, 65% of women have experienced physical violence in India. The numbers make domestic violence a strong factor behind suicide but more research is needed in this area.

Alcohol playing a significant role

Alcohol is becoming an increasing factor behind suicide in this region. Drinking is a common practice in these countries. This practice affects the thinking capability of individuals and often leads to suicide. According to a report, around 30-50% of males were drunk during the time of suicide.

Drugs are also becoming a player behind suicides. Along with alcohol, drugs are also increasingly becoming an important preventable factor behind suicide.

Prevailing methods of suicides

The most prevailing method of suicide is using pesticides. Pesticides are easily available since most countries have an agricultural economy. Around 30% of suicides globally are because of pesticides.

It follows self-immolation and it is most common among women.

Hanging is frequently used as well. It is also the most common method used by youngsters.

Suicide prevention strategies

Many legislations have been passed to prevent increasing suicide. From passing mental health bills to eliminate access to pesticides, many strategies are being implemented.

Mental health awareness

Depression and suicide have a strong link. Having a common mental illness can potentially increase the risk of suicide. To tackle that, countries are passing mental health awareness bills to handle the situation more effectively.

The Philippines recently passed a Mental Health Act to involve government to positively deal with mental health issues. India has recently decriminalized suicides that shows a ray of hope. Now people can easily come forward as governments are involving in helping them, which in return reduces the suicide rates.

Public health approach

Mental health can be treated clinically but the cost is often high for that. Most countries have an abundance of the low and middle class that cannot afford those treatments.

The solution for that is to involve more public approach which these countries are adopting. They are now treating suicides as a public health issue. They can focus on social reasons for suicide rather than individual motives which give them a more efficient way of dealing with the problem.

Intervention strategies

The problem is, these countries have a limited number of mental health professionals. Most of them have yet to develop a national suicide prevention strategy.

So it is the need of time for these countries to develop a low-cost intervention that can be delivered through mental health professionals.

Non-governmental organizations

80% of these countries have non-governmental organizations working for addressing mental issues and suicide prevention.

The volunteers have offered their services for free. They have established prevention centers to provide emotional supports.

This approach can reduce the suicide rates and will not burden the fragile economies of these countries.

Access to pesticides

Restricting access to pesticides can drop suicide rates effectively. It was seen in Sri Lanka when the government banned the sale of certain toxic pesticides, the suicide rates fell significantly.

Another strategy from Sri Lanka was to lock the boxes storing pesticides in farming households. As open boxed were feasible for people to access and use pesticides. This also has dropped the suicide rates significantly.

Way forward

Suicide is a global issue and the reduction of it should be on the agenda of every country. United Nations is also increasing awareness about suicide by including it as one of the indicators of Sustainable Development Goals.

Therefore all the countries in Asia need to implement a comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy and also allocate enough resources for it.

It is also much needed to include the local communities as they can provide essential data for health-related issues. It is a must to identify potential victims of suicide.

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