Why are young Indians killing themselves?

Suicide victim Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among young Indians

In the end, wrote Albert Camus, one needs more courage to live than to kill oneself.

If new research is to be believed, a disturbingly high number of young Indians are losing the courage.

A study published in the medical journal The Lancet shows that suicide has become the second leading cause of death among the country's young adults, after road accidents in men, and childbirth-related complications in women.

There were 187,000 deaths from suicides in India in 2010, the study says - this is higher than the official figure of 134,599 suicide deaths from the National Crime Records Bureau. (Researchers attribute this gap to under-reporting or misreporting as friendly or bribe-seeking coroners often sign off suicide deaths as ones caused by accidents to protect the victim's family from police harassment and social stigma.)

If the findings by a team of doctors are to be believed, 40% of the men and 56% of the women who took their lives in 2010 were aged between 15 and 29 years.

The suicide rate in Indian women aged 15 years or older is more than two and a half times greater than it is in women of the same age in high-income countries, and nearly as high in China. The corresponding rate in men in the same group is between one to two times greater in men of the same age in high-income countries.

I asked Dr Vikram Patel, a leading Goa-based psychiatrist and professor at the London School Of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the study, about why he thought this was happening.

He believes that joblessness for men and post-marriage problems for women trigger off a lot of these suicides. "In women it manifests in depression, in men it becomes a drinking problem," he says.

India is a society steeped in the patriarchal tradition, where most women are still expected to stay at home, and bring up children. But more and more women are stepping out to work and aspiring to be independent and successful. But pressures of family, demands for dowry and domestic harassment - and violence - push many such young, married women over the edge in the country's teeming cities and towns.

"This is what I call the aspirational reality gap," says Dr Patel. "Exposure to global media, education doesn't match up to the realities at home. A touch of anomie worsens matters. Suicide is seen as a potential way out of it." Perhaps not surprising in a society which lives with one foot in tradition, and the other in modernity.

Soutik Biswas Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    My theory differs to some extent.The cases of depression particularly the Bipolar depression, has got a high possibility for suicide.Patients with Bipolar disorder has got the tendency for indulgence in alcohol and drug abuse.Any stressful condition can precipitate an acute attack.And when suicidal thoughts come,the person loses control on himself and willpower does not matter at that stage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    The age group from 15-29 is quite large. It might have been more sensible to also split the statistics into sub-groups, e.g. suicide due to academic pressures would like be very high among 15-20 year-olds, whereas love and career troubles might figure higher in the 20-25 group. This would also allow a clearer analysis. Suicide among students was always a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Do-not shoot the messenger!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    India has a population of 120 crores and Patriarchy,alcohol were present since centuries and when India grew at 9%.Dowry related deaths,drinking problems, aspirational reality gaps are leading to more suicides. Majority of Indian population is in 15 to 29 yrs and most of them are not suicidal or attempted suicide.Despite the above problems majority still live with the courage needed in life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Again, interesting article by Mr. Biswas. I have nothing to say about the article as I agree with it.

    But, I'd like to address the "patriots" here who bash Mr. Biswas in their comments. Instead of cribbing about the facts that Biswas brings up, and trying to cover-up things by comparing India with the West, focus on change in society. Folks, you have an option, just don't visit this blog, simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    (...cont) as much as female suicide. This article is a conscious attempt to divert the attention from the real issues. Right now 4 anti-male laws are pending in the parliament and i'm not surprised to see this kind of skewed articles. Search for Equality for Men - Myth or Reality and learn more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Builderberg controlled media is trying to force people think that 'patriachy' is some sort of evil practice. They create key words like this and sell it through their world wide propagation channels. National Crime Records Bureau clearly says that out of the various age groups the most number of suicides are happening withing the married sector. And in this sector male suicide polls twice (cont..)

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    I am a Westerner married to a South Indian. What I have noticed is a fear of speaking honestly about issues outside a family. Things are hidden in order to save face with the extended family or outside world. Things build up and come out in odd ways. Back in college, my roommate volunteered for Suicide Prevention and took calls from people. She probably saved some lives by just listening to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    thinking_loudly, here's an article about Aakash on the New York Times that you may want to read. Oh no, here's some more foreign media slander for you to comment on!

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I always have a hard time understanding comments from people like Unni Menon and thinking_loudly. Reporting about what isn't right with the country, esp. in established and respected foreign media channels, is one way to put pressure on the govt. to take action to fix it. What are you doing, Unni? Traveling around the world and burying your head in the sand because all's well in your world?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Look at the culture of Bollywood. Most of the movies depict at least one scene that condones the protagonist vow to commit suicide. It is considered honourable,not at all bad compared to "oh so bad" consensual sex between adults or making love or other positive things in life. Suicide is considered an honourable way out of life's difficulties and indeed promoted by the media.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Is there any specific reason why the study choose 15 to 29 age period? he study report talks about marriage problems but 15 is not a common marriageable age anywhere in india! And why is it 29 not 30 or 25???...

  • Comment number 28.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Mr. Biswas,
    I have been reading your earlier articles.
    - Bridging India’s identity divide with a number
    Do you have anything good to write about India??? I travel around the world and really there is a difference of perception 15 years earlier and now becoming more and more positive. PLEASE... Be positive in some of your comments

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    I know little about matters Indian, but common sense tells me that it is something to do with the culture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The problem of suicide begs the questions : "What is the purpose of life? Is this all? What are we doing here? Where did we come from? Where are we wrong?? Where do we find peace?

    "... Verily in the remembrance of God do hearts find rest." - The Glorious Qur'an Chapter 13 Verse 28

    "Our Lord! You have not created all this without purpose. " - The Glorious Qur'an Chapter 3 Verse 190

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    thinking_loudly to me as a non-Indian the whole tone of this piece is sceptical of the report's claims [and if anything slightly judgemental of the suicides actions otherwise why the Camus quote?].

    eg 'If the findings...are to be believed' and 'He believes...'

    It's a staple of most press round the world to find fault in other lands [often to deflect attention from those of their own land].


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