Tashi Dema

With more than 70 people taking their own lives in 2019, suicide cases have not reduced even after the implementation of a three-year national suicide prevention programme (NSSP).

The figures are not exact, as two officials with the programme maintain separate registry and there was no report and analysis conducted for the year.

Records available indicate that the highest suicide deaths occurred in 2016 with 132 people died by suicide followed by 106 in 2017 and 92 in 2018. Statistics showed most of the victims died because of mental illness or depression, domestic violence and relationship issues. It was also common among rural residents and youth.

A study has also shown suicidal behaviour among school-going adolescents in Bhutan is high and alarming, especially among girls. It identified bullying, sexual violence, feeling of loneliness and drug abuse as some of the key risk factors.

This has forced many people question the rationale of having the programme and if it has benefited the people at the ground.

“We have had a recent suicide case in Samtse, where the victim has been threatening he will take his own life on social media for a year and no one intervened,” a corporate employee, Yangdon, said. “In circumstances like this, I wonder what’s the role of concerned agencies and officials, including those at the programme?”

Another Thimphu resident, Tshering, said that when she first heard of the programme, which was launched in 2015, she expected it could provide direct intervention to people with suicidal thoughts and ideation. “But it appears the benefit is not being transformed to the needy.”

While the programme officer of NSSP, Yeshi Wangdi, is on leave, an Australian mental health services’ mentor volunteer, Carly Clutterbuck, said the programme is to write the action plan and facilitate the programme implementation.

She said the programme officer is not a counsellor and there is no way he could provide direct intervention but works to promote, coordinate and support appropriate inter-sectoral action plans and programmes for the prevention of suicidal behaviours at national, dzongkhag, gewog and community levels.

She explained that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility and community members have a huge role to play. “The biggest warning of suicide is a person talking about it and instead of instigating the person to take their life, community members should ask if he or she needs help.”

Carly Clutterbuck said suicidal ideation is treatable and preventable and most people return to complete functionality after it. “It’s like any other disease and  society must render help to the person suffering from it.”

She said reducing stigma against people suffering from mental health issues by creating awareness in communities would strengthen suicide prevention activities. “Community members should also be made aware of how they could help by referring the persons to counsellors and health officials.”

According to the volunteer, improving intervention services is also necessary. “This can be done by upskilling school counsellors and health officials, especially those working in basic health units so that they have the competency and confidence to respond in times of need.”

She said expanding the range of mental health professionals is must. “As of now, there are only four professional counsellors but once we have the students graduate from the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Science, things will be much better.”

Meanwhile, it is not known if any help was rendered to the man, who took his life in Samtse.

Health officials in Samtse said they highlight suicide, alcohol and teenage pregnancy in every meeting they conduct and maintain a suicide registry, where they investigate and report all suicide cases.

It was learnt that some dzongkhags sent suicide reports six months later.

Carly Clutterbuck, however, said they have now changed the registry, where the dzongkhag health officials will update the details online. “The new system will have ranges of possible reasons to give an indication of what was happening to the person who took his or her life, as the triggering factor is not necessarily the cause and there will be a combination of affects.”