Every week someone commits suicide in Bhutan.
Putting in place a national suicide prevention programme may have documented reported suicide cases, but it appears to have not achieved much in understanding the reasons why people take their own lives. The cause of suicide for more than 60 percent of the reported cases was described as “unknown”.
Listing unknown and other factors for suicides and accidents has become routine in our reporting mechanisms. How such reasons help craft policies and interventions so remain unknown.
While every life lost is one too many, a worrying trend we are witnessing is the increasing cases of suicide among farmers. The last two GNH surveys found that farmers, the biggest occupational group in the country, are the least happy. Except during elections, agriculture and farmers remain neglected. Suicides may be a manifestation of distress our farming community is subjected to.
The recent GNH survey also found that about five percent of the population considered committing suicide and 20 percent of those attempted to take their own lives. A review of the reported cases in 2016 and 2017 show that after “unknown”, social problems and psychological reasons were cited as the causes of reported suicide. That farmers, the employed and students top the list of those committing suicides annually show that efforts, if any, to enhance the wellbeing of these occupational groups have fallen sorely short.
Although under reported, suicide is among the top six causes of death in the country today, making it an issue of national concern that demands serious collective action. The last government showed some political will to address this growing public health concern. The new government, which has remained occupied in fulfilling its pledges, must not squander time to address the issues troubling these vulnerable groups.
The first study on reported suicides in the country cited several factors that led people to take their own lives. A stark finding was the stress of academic pressure for young people in schools. Failed examinations or being worried about their academic performance was cited as a factor in driving students to commit suicide. Among the employed, it was found that a majority of those who attempted and completed suicide earned less than Nu 3,000 a month.
With stressors varying for each age group and given the complex nature of suicide, there is a need for targeted interventions. The study recommended interventions in the areas of education, health, community, service delivery and control of easy access to substances, among others. A country that emphasises on the well-being of its people can ill afford to ignore the growing issue of suicide. We have studies and statistics to frame polices. What we lack is the will.
A strong policy response must be made to address the issues troubling our farmers and youth urgently. We have neglected them for far too long.