While suicide rate in the country is concerning, it is not the highest in the world, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said.
He said this in response to Nanong-Shumar Member of Parliament (MP), Dechen Zangmo’s question on the government’s plan and policies to reduce suicide cases in the country.
She said that in 2016, 96 suicide cases were reported, which indicates that seven people committed suicide every month.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said that the rate of suicide for every 100,000 Bhutanese is 12 a year. Citing examples, he said that in Sri Lanka, 34 people commit suicide for every 100,000 people, while it is 24 in Korea, 15 in Japan, 16 in India, 12.6 in Thailand, 7.2 in Nepal, 7.6 in Singapore and 12.6 in America. The suicide rate in Bhutan, he said is in the medium.”
He also claimed that suicide cases are not increasing every year. “In 2009, 72 people committed suicide, 81 in 2012, 96 in 2013, 92 in 2016 and 89 people as of November 2017.”
Lyonchhen said Bhutan is different from other countries, in the sense that it is a blessed country with Gross National Happiness as a philosophy. “If there is one country that is exemplary to others with happiness as a policy, it is Bhutan.”
He said there is no reason for people in the country to commit suicide, as people do not have problems. “The main problem for people is to educate children and education is free here. There is also kidu.”
The government has initiated central schools where students get everything for free, including mattress and blankets, plates and mugs, he said. “Parents shouldn’t worry about anything.”
The other concern is sickness and in Bhutan, health facility is free, Lyonchhen said. “When there is an emergency, there is helicopter service.”
He said people should not worry about land and disasters, as everyone knows there is kidu in place. “For aged citizens, who do not have anyone to look after, kidu is provided every month.”
He said that to meet the expenses of rituals in times of death, the insurance scheme is increased by double this year.
Lyonchhen said that the government, worried about the suicide trend, conducted a nationwide suicide study and established a national suicide prevention programme (NSPP) for 2015 – 2018.
Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi, however, asked the Prime Minister to provide the plans and policies on suicide prevention and not on the central schools and helicopter services.
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that he had to cite the examples to show that Bhutanese do not have problems like people in other countries. “We have law and religion.”
He said that the cabinet has directed the establishment of a taskforce for relevant organisations to prevent suicide. “Committees are formed in the dzongkhags and we have trained counsellors in schools. We also provided training to police to respond in suicide cases and also to establish an office.”
Lyonchhen said that people commit suicide because of mental health problems from drugs and alcohol. “We have, therefore, amended the Narcotic Drugs, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act and deliberated on it.”
He said that to curb alcohol consumption, the cabinet framed a policy in 2015. “We are also working with RENEW and trained 150 volunteers and 12 clinical counsellors. “We are also expanding mental health projects at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital. In villages, schools and thromdes, people can seek counselling and help by calling toll free number 112.”