The first ever nationwide and comprehensive report on suicides in Bhutan is an eye opener in many ways.
Apart from demolishing some popular notions about suicide, it also gives us more data and information than ever before. This is an important first step to tackling a rising social and health problem in Bhutan.
The driving cause of suicide, as long speculated and suspected, is down to psychological factors like stress, mental illness and etc.
However, it is interesting to note that family relations weather between husband and wife or children and parents are also leading causes. In fact marital problems seem to be among one of the major factors behind suicides.
One long held notion was that suicide was mainly an urban Bhutan problem. This tied in well with the long held image of us as ‘unhappy’ urban people and ‘happy’ rural folk. However, the data shows that the farmers and farm workers made up close to half of suicide rates, much more than any other group. Also, overall suicides were higher in rural areas than urban areas.
More studies should go into why farmer or rural suicides are so high, and if there is something happening there that we need to learn more about.
It is also interesting to note that the majority of suicide victims were from the lower income bracket.
Another belief is that suicides were mainly due to children coming from broken homes. However, the data shows that the vast majority of suicide cases happened to people who came from unbroken homes. This shows that just because a couple is married it does not necessarily mean a happy household.
The second highest suicide group after farmers were students and the leading cause was exam stress and academics. This should be one more motivation to take a look at our rote learning and high stress education system that places too much stress on competitive exams. It is also an indicator of schools and the education system needing to do more to ensure a student friendly education system.
Addiction in the form of both alcohol and drugs is not only one of the causes but also an enabler of suicides. The majority of suicide victims were
addicted mainly to alcohol with some addicted to drugs. Also a high number were on mainly alcohol and a few on drugs while committing the act.
On this front, the government should do more to reverse the tide of alcoholism and drug addiction in Bhutan that are also killing in other ways from liver cirrhosis to overdose deaths not listed as suicides.
However, no single cause can be held responsible for suicides, but it is generally a combination of causes or a chain cycle of one event leading to another.
One reflection from this study could be that perhaps Bhutan is not as ‘happy’ a place as we like to imagine ourselves to be. Though we are far better off than our neighbors in terms of general well being, there could be various other issues at play that encourage suicides.
The report not only points out the problem but also recommends a host of measures to tackle the issue from focusing more on the medical side of it to counseling and various other measures.
Given the fact that whatever the cause, suicide is essentially a psychological process and decision, and so we need to do much more to improve mental health in the country.
Advocacy and awareness creation on suicides is a twin edged sword as people have been known to do copy cat suicides. This is one reason why this paper has left out the method and data on how suicides were done from the main story. However, advocacy against suicides and asking people to come forward for help will be important.
On a brighter note a detailed study in America showed that suicides rates were higher in US states that ranked higher on the happiness scale. In fact some of the world’s highest suicide rates are in countries that top happiness scales like some Scandinavian countries.
Scientists explained that since human beings are essentially social beings and rate their own well being in comparison to other around them the miserable ones in happier countries would feel much more miserable. This of course does not discount the traditional and more mainstream causes of suicides listed above.
In the end it is high time that ‘happy’ Bhutan finds out what is happening to some of its unhappy citizens and in doing so extend a helping and caring hand to them.
“But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.” Albert Camus