Suicides in India: What data shows?

• India now accounts for over a third of the world’s annual female suicides and nearly a fourth of male suicides, a significant increase in its global share from 1990.

• The suicide rates for men and women in India were much higher than the global averages.

• In 2012, a team of researchers sent trained doctors to more than a million homes to determine causes of death.

The big bad female suicide problem

• Across the world, men commit suicide at a higher rate than women, and India is no different.

• India’s female suicide problem is particularly bad. India has the sixth highest female suicide death rate in the world.

• If Indian states were countries, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal would have the third, fourth and fifth worst rates of female suicide in the world (only Greenland and Lesotho are worse).

• The three Indian states with the highest age-standardized suicide rates among men— Tripura, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

• The 11th, 17th and 20th highest in the world if they were countries. In all, there are 45 countries with higher male suicide death rates than India.

• Violence against women is an important determinant of suicide.

• However, while suicide rates have improved significantly among women, they remained nearly unchanged among men between 1990 and 2016.

Regional skew

• India’s southern states are more developed, but also more suicide-prone.

• This follows a global pattern, with more developed states having higher suicide rates.

• The medical literature, instead of “more developed” and “less developed” countries or states are classed by their stage in the “epidemiological transition”—moving from high rates of fertility to lower rates as incomes grow, health improves and women become educated.

• Among lower fertility states, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal, and among higher fertility states Uttarakhand had significant declines in suicide rates for women from 1990 to 2016.

• No state had a significant decline in suicide rates for men during this period.

• There is another significant difference between suicides among men and women in India.

• The highest age-specific rates of suicide for men were among elderly men aged 75 years or older, while among women it was for young women aged 15-29.

The under-reporting problem

• In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 130,000 suicides in India.

• According to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau, India’s official source of suicide data recorded by the police.

• That’s 100,000 fewer suicides than Dandona et al’s estimates, or a decrease of 77%.

Way forward

• The decriminalisation of suicide in 2017 “is expected to have a major role in access to mental health treatment and possible reduction in under-reporting and stigma associated with suicide.

• The first step in addressing India’s suicide crisis would be to record suicide deaths accurately, and acknowledge the gravity of the crisis.

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Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Population and associated issues

Prelims level: Global Burden of Disease Study

Mains level: The problem of suicides and its effects on society as well as the demographic dividend of India

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