Yangyel Lhaden 

The National Council’s Social and Cultural Affairs Committee (SCAC) has submitted nine recommendations to the government to improve services to address mental health and suicide in the country.

Considering the increasing number of mental disorders and suicide reported in the country, the committee later added four more recommendations to the five it proposed on December 15. In the same week, His Holiness the Je Khenpo also issued a Kasho on the increasing suicide cases in the country.

The SCAC’s chairperson, Lhaki Dolma, said that in order to complement the Royal initiatives to establish The Pema Centre, the recommendations would help implement important measures to address the current issues surrounding mental disorders and suicide.

The committee recommended that the government continue to render support to improve policies, allocate resources, strengthen intersectoral partnerships, conduct research, and improve data collection to create a more robust and responsive system.

The committee recommended improvement of counselling facilities in schools, training of counsellors in specialised fields, allocation of at least one counsellor at all levels of schools, and additional counsellors in schools with more students.

The committee recommended the establishment of a help centre anduniform helplines at both dzongkhag and national levels, along with timely awareness programmes. Ensuring follow-up counselling sessions for suicide survivors and their families, the committee said, must be given priority.

Other recommendations include meaningful engagement of youth and establishment of youth parks and recreational facilities in urban and rural areas, besides free access for youth to existing government-owned sports facilities such as parks, school grounds, institutional facilities, and spiritual programmes in the educational institutes.

The SCAC also calls upon the government to implement the Narcotic Drugs Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act 2015 (Sections 34 & 36) by establishing rehabilitation centres.

One of the findings of the review report states that the mental health programme is manned by only two staff. The National Suicide Prevention Programme, it said, has only one staff member and the budget allocated for these programmes was between Nu 2.5 million (M)  and Nu 3.5M respectively, which translates to a budget of Nu 5 for mental health programmes for every Bhutanese.

The budget available for the suicide prevention programme works out to 15 chhetrums for every Bhutanese.


SCAC findings

Between 2016 and 2021, out of 553 cases of suicide, 43.20 percent were farmers and homemakers, 15.37 percent students, 7.7 percent were unemployed, and 7.59 percent were among private sector employees.

According to the report, there are 177 counsellors: one counsellor caters to between 500 and 1,500 students on average. There are 499 government schools, out of which half are primary level. There are no counsellors in primary level schools.

The report shows that suicide cases are the highest in age group 10 to 24 (32.36 percent), followed by age 43 and above (26.58 percent); 16.81 percent were between the ages of 25 and 30.

There are only three rehabilitation centres in the country, all in Thimphu, to address the growing number of alcohol and substance abuse addictions.