A New Study Crunches Surprising Numbers on Suicide in India

The public health crisis raises questions about stigma.

 Jekaterina Nikitina / Getty Images

India accounted for 37 percent of women’s suicides reported globally and 26 percent of men’s, according to new research published in the journal Lancet Public Health. India is a big country — it makes up 18 percent of the world’s population — but those figures are still strikingly high.

NPR spoke with two of the study’s authors, and they provided some insight into the numbers. Dr. Lakshmi Vijaykumar, MBBS, DPM, PhD, a psychiatrist who has worked on suicide prevention strategies for 25 years, explained that the numbers they saw for suicide among women came disproportionately from women below the age of 30. She hypothesized that this might be due to the social situation of many young women in India: “Indian women below the age of 30 were exposed to major life changes and social pressures that come after marriage. Many lived with their in-laws in a patriarchal joint family setup and were denied basic freedom. But after 30, most women had children and [their] status in the family changed. Even though the pressures and difficulties remained the same, her attention shifted to her children. She became less suicidal. ”

Dr. Vijaykumar also explained that part of the difficulty around suicide (and studying suicide) in India stems from an outdated law still on the books in the country: “A law in the Indian Penal Code ]IPC 309] still lays down punishment for attempted suicide and it has not been repealed… Unless that law goes, we cannot make progress in addressing the issue.”

This law, she suggests, contributes to stigma around suicide. And when a problem amounts to the public health crisis evident here, stigma is a powerful force against change. The study authors recommend that India develop a suicide prevention plan that takes into account the demographic variations in who is at risk. 

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