Not long ago, a young, bright, and joyful student in Thimphu took his own life. Like in most suicide cases, this young person had shared suicidal thoughts with friends and browsed about it on the phone for more than a year. The school and the relatives were left in shock. 

The above incident had all the indications of a probable suicide but none who witnessed the changes suspected the person to take his own life. The friends, teachers and relatives were simply unaware of symptoms. 

Suicide is a major public health issue and the number of suicide attempts in the country is increasing, especially among the youth. But how many of us are really aware of the symptoms shown by a person with suicidal thoughts? 

Some even say that Bhutanese have no reason whatsoever to take their own lives. Trivialising the issue by brushing aside the seriousness of this national malady is being facile and irresponsible. 

The interim report of the National Council’s Social and Cultural Affairs Committee on suicide reveals that we had oblivious of the glaring fact and its seriousness. 

Over the past five years, the budget allocation has remained under Nu 3.5 million despite the increasing number of people seeking treatment for mental health issues and a high rate of suicide cases. 

Limited human resource and rehabilitation centres also impede the progress in addressing mental health issues and preventing suicides in the country, according to the report.  

We acknowledge that suicide is a complex issue and there is no simple solution. Up to 90 percent of suicides cases are associated with mental disorders — depression, schizophrenia, drugs and alcoholism are highly related. 

Suicide prevention depends on the individual’s resources to cope or deal with the problem, the environmental factors such as the type of help and support available. 

Our culture is not friendly at all to people living with mental health issues. People are afraid to ask whether someone was suicidal for the fear that it could encourage the person to take his or her own life. 

Experts say that the biggest warning of suicide is a person talking about it. What do we do then? Instead of instigating the person to take his or her life, community members should ask if he or she needs help. 

If a person is suicidal, someone has to stay with him or her even if it is through remote means — on a phone conversation, for example. The person should be referred to a professional counsellor or mental health worker. 

The Covid-19 pandemic will only worsen the situation. Many have been shut inside their homes for months now. 

While investing in the essential facilities and training of more health workers and volunteers is necessary, every Bhutanese need to act. Families have to talk about it. Parents should have discussions with their children. Each of us must learn about it in order to be able to help our loved ones.