Any search on suicide in Bhutan is unfortunately juxtaposed with our smallness, the happiness tag, and the increasing or high rate of death by suicide in the region or the world. It does not bode well with what we are known for – a tiny, happy country in the Himalayas.

The death rate by suicide places us among the highest in the world. It was the 6th highest in the Asia-Pacific region not very long ago. The rate has improved from 20th highest in the world in 2011 to 54th in 2018. But it is still a stark contrast to our efforts and the perception of our well-being outside our borders.

Since the health ministry started recording deaths by suicide in 2013, the average suicide was 73 cases per year or six deaths in a month. It is 12 per 100,000 population, higher than the global rate of 11.4 per 100,000 population per year. While the global rate in on a decline, suicide rates in Bhutan increased going by the updated five-year suicide prevention plan (2018-2023).

The growing incidence  of suicide, especially among the young is recognized as a  national concern.  It is not only a public health issue, but a problem that we need to delve deeper. Attempts to die by suicide are among 11-year-olds going by the latest report. 

It is said that for every death by suicide, there are several that are not reported. Quite often we hear cases of death by suicide even it is not reported to police or covered by the media. The good thing about suicide is that it can be prevented to a large extent with the right interventions.  

The challenges surrounding suicide was long recognised. It is the same old problem like the stigma of not seeking help, hiding cases of attempts or reporting cases. Help in many cases is seeing a counsellor or a psychiatrist.  It is made worse by our perception, largely from the way we perceive people seeking help from psychiatrists. Someone seeking help from a psychiatrist or visiting a hospital for mental health issues is called a “psycho”. It is worse when psychiatrists are called “psycho’s doctors.”

The government committed to address suicide prevention as a top social priority. A strategic plan was put in place and revised to as current as 2023. Perhaps, we need more attention and resources to tackle it and make the strategy work.

We have the diagnosis; we know the causes of suicide are complex,  that prevention efforts must be multi-pronged in addressing both individuals and society level issues. We know the burden of suicide on the society and we know which parties should work together to prevent deaths by suicide. 

Latest reports are not available, but we keep hearing about deaths by suicide. Between 2018 and 2020, a total of 283 Bhutanese committed suicide, with 95 suicide cases recorded in 2020 alone. This is a huge number for a small country. 

There is still a long way to go. Talk about stigma. It is still difficult to make those with suicidal thoughts to see an expert or those aware of it not seeking help .  Suicide is a social issue. We need society to understand it and openly talk about it like a tshatem (common flu). Suicides, unlike tshatem,  kills and pains those left behind.  

If you or anyone you know needs someone to talk to, call the Pema Secretariat toll-free help line at 1010 and 112.