To say that mental illnesses are fast emerging to be a serious national health concern would be wrong. They are in fact more common than most lifestyle-related illnesses like cancer, diabetes, or heart diseases that are among the top causes of mortality in the country. Because most mental illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors, there is perhaps a need to look beyond treatment. As it could be in our case already, this approach of taking the matters in hands can become overwhelmingly risible and redundant. It simply will not lend itself to effective planning of future response.

While some are wont to blithely downplaying the seriousness of the malady gripping the nation like increasing suicide rate with profoundly ludicrous opinion that no Bhutanese should have any reason whatsoever to put an end to their own lives, we would do well to look at the factors that give rise to increasing instances of mental illnesses among our people.  Mental illnesses like anxiety and panic disorders, depressions, schizophrenia, to name but a few, are the leading factors that causes a person to take his or her own life.

We may be living in a country where happiness of the people is at the front and centre of our welfare-driven development initiatives but that doesn’t mean we have with success held our people, particularly the young, from exposure to risky, often dangerous environments. The number of suicide incidence in the country increased to 106 last year from 92 in 2016. We also know from the reports that young people are more likely to take their own lives.  Of the total reported suicide cases last year, the highest (27) was among persons between ages of 21 and 30 years.

Dealing with suicide will require looking at the health of the society. If our young people are resorting to substance abuse, one of the prime causes of mental illness, stoked up by rising unemployment situation in the country mental illness among the young will only grow and dealing with suicide will be a vain effort.

The health ministry has proposed Nu 60 million in capital outlay to strengthen mental health-related interventions in the country for the 12th Plan comes as good news. But more needs to be done to employ interventions like treatment and management of mental illness, surveillance, survey, capacity development and suicide prevention, among others. More important, to begin with, we want more than undermanned and poorly resourced treatment and rehabilitation centres.