Karela Fry

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Suicides: India’s public health problem

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The Lancet carries a paper by nine doctors based in Vellore:

Different rates of suicide have been reported in India. In Vellore, southern India, we have noted that the rates of suicides are several fold higher than those reported anywhere in the world, especially in young women. The department of community health at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, has obtained data prospectively on births, deaths, and morbidity in a population of 108 000. We used the verbal autopsy method to assign cause of death. The mortality rates were analysed for 10 years, from 1992 to 2001, for the age-group 10—19 years. Suicides accounted for about a quarter of all deaths in young men and between 50% and 75% of all deaths in young women. The average suicide rate for young women was 148 per 100 000, and for young men 58 per 100 000.

An opinion piece in the Hindu comments that this study can be cross validated by other data:

The medical journal, The Lancet has published a study today which should bring attention to a little known human tragedy which is being played out across our country. The research is based on the first national survey of the causes of death, conducted in 2001-03, by the Registrar General of India. Many people die at home in India, especially in rural areas, and without medical attention. As a result, their deaths, like many in the developing world, have no certifiable cause and are invisible to the public health system and society at large. This landmark effort of the Registrar General to systematically document the causes of death has transformed our understanding of why Indians die.

The study has reported some startling findings with regards to suicide in India. Suicide rates in India are among the highest reported from any country. Suicide rates are much higher in rural areas, and in the southern states of the country. The fatality rates may be higher in India than in many western countries because the favoured method of suicide is the use of pesticides (in comparison to, say, taking an overdose of sleeping pills). Less surprisingly, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, the only routinely collated national data on suicide, under-report between a quarter and a third of all suicides in men and women respectively. But perhaps the most important finding of all is that the burden of suicide falls disproportionately on India’s youth. Nearly 60 per cent of all suicide deaths in Indian women occur between the ages of 15 and 29 years, the corresponding figure for men being 40 per cent. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in young people of both genders and, with the falling trends of maternal mortality, is likely to become the leading cause of death in young women in the near future.

Unless, of course, the country takes action to stem this tragic tide.

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Written by Arhopala Bazaloides

June 22, 2012 at 4:29 am

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