India’s suicide crisis


India is currently going through rapid changes politically, economically, socially and demographically. This is having a direct impact on the mental health of its citizens. According to the first comprehensive ‘Mental Health Survey’ conducted by NIMHANS in 2016 an estimated 150 million persons are in need of mental health interventions.

1 suicide out of every 6 suicides was by a ‘housewife’. Nearly 70.5% of the male victims were married while 67.3% of female victims were married. India has one of the world’s highest rate of suicides among people aged between 15 years and 29 years and it is the leading cause for death in that age group.

According to NCRB data the main reason for suicide are family problems (other than marriage-related issues) accounting for 34.0%, and illness totalling to 17.2%, which together accounted for 51.1% of total suicides in the country, during the year 2015.

The prevention of suicide is every individual’s responsibility. The World Health Organization has stated that communities have a big role to play in suicide prevention. In 2014, the World Health Organization released a report, “Preventing suicide: a global imperative” to increase awareness of the public health significance of suicide and suicide attempts, to make suicide prevention a higher priority on the global public health agenda, and to encourage and support countries to develop or strengthen comprehensive suicide prevention strategies in a multisectoral public health approach.

A nationwide suicide prevention strategy is the first in the steps needed to reduce the number of suicides. The WHO states that there are only 28 countries that have a suicide prevention policy in place, and India is not one of them. Lack of adequate suicide data and research also restricts a country’s ability to fight suicide. Only 60 countries have good-quality vital registration data on suicide

Community-based suicide prevention methods like the “Gatekeeper” that trains laypersons on how to identify warning signs of suicide and how to respond and refer the person. The gatekeeper training is something that anyone can take either online or offline and can be completed in a few hours. Other community-based interventions include training healthcare workers, doctors, police, teachers and HR personnel.

Reducing access to lethal means (guns, pesticides and so on) is known to prevent suicide.

Having a single toll-free number, available 24/7/365 in multiple languages to access all the different suicide crisis helplines is another action that the government of India needs to take.

Educating the media on how to report on suicide needs to be made an important imperative.

While there are at least 50 suicide crisis helplines in India that are working tirelessly to handle callers who are suicidal, there are other proven ways to prevent suicide and suicide battle suicide ideation. India does not have a single organization that is working towards suicide prevention, suicide awareness, engage with the media, conduct Gatekeeper training, and promote mental health self care.

In the US, there are organizations like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), that are working to fight suicide, create a culture that’s aware of mental health and provide care to those who are affected by suicide.

But what’s needed is an umbrella organization that works with crisis helplines, foundations, funders, researchers, schools and colleges, workplaces, media, volunteers, donors and media to build a platform. This will help to better engage with the public, media and government agencies and help fight suicide more effectively.