More than two years after the implementation of a suicide prevention action plan, preventing suicides in the country still remains a challenge.
At least eight suicide cases were reported every month until May this year. Health officials said suicide is among the top six leading causes of deaths in the country today. There were 42 suicide cases reported until May 2016.
Last year, 92 suicide cases, seven each month, were reported across the country of which 34 were among farmers. The Gross National Happiness survey, 2015, found that farmers comprise a majority of the nine percent unhappy population besides the elderly and women in the country. Among the dzongkhags, Samtse, with 16 suicide cases reported the highest last year, followed by 10 cases in Thimphu. Chukha, Pemagtshel and Tsirang reported seven cases each.
Of the total reported cases last year, the highest number of suicide cases at 41 was among youth between 21 and 30 years.
The Cabinet endorsed a three-year suicide prevention action plan in May 2015 to address the increasing number of suicides in the country.
Programme officer with the National Suicide Prevention Programme (NSPP), Yeshi Wangdi, said suicide is a complex issue. “It’s a multi-sectoral approach and a single agency alone cannot solve the issue.”
Since the work plans are implemented at the dzongkhag and local government levels, a dzongdag’s suicide prevention response team is established in all the dzongkhags to ensure effective response to rescue suicide attempts and deliberate self-harm incidents in the communities.
“Health ministry is the coordinating body and also the secretariat to the dzongdag’s suicide prevention response teams,” Yeshi Wangdi said.
The NSPP secretariat at the health ministry and Royal Bhutan Police have also developed a National Suicide Registry to improve record keeping.
Yeshi Wangdi said the government is concerned about the increasing number of suicides particularly among the youth. “This population falls under the education sector and the sector can play a major role in preventing suicides,” he said.
Records with police show that a total of 314 suicide cases including 54 attempted suicides were reported between 2013 and 2015. Of the total, 92 were below 24 years.
In a five-year review of suicide cases from 2009 – 2013, police recorded a total of 361 suicide deaths in the country.
Yeshi Wangdi said that in most of the suicide incidences, it is difficult to say why a person committed the suicide. “However, if you look at the underlying factors like the victim’s history of alcohol and drug use, and mental status, among others, most of the victims are found to be dependent on controlled substances and alcohol.”
Relationship issues are the most common reason for a majority of attempted suicide cases, he added. The programme officer said psychological support for individuals at risk of suicide could help prevent suicide.
“I feel the best approach to prevent an individual form taking his own life is by changing the individual’s behavior and his attitude towards life,” Yeshi Wangdi said. “This can be done by religious figures through religious discourse in public gatherings and in institutions including schools and universities.”
He said prominent religious figures could convince people to have a positive attitude towards life. Other stakeholders like the media could do more in educating and creating awareness on suicide prevention.
The action plan has six objectives and 56 actions. “In terms of establishment, we have established about 80 percent of the activities,” he said. Among the rest that needs to be done, the training of counselors could not be conducted due to lack of budget.
“Since the Gross National Happiness Commission committed to fund the trainings, all trainings will be conducted in 2017 and 2018. After that, the achievement of the implementation of the action plan will be 100 percent,” Yeshi Wangdi said.