Everyday, someone takes his or her own life in Bhutan.
It is disturbing to learn that that someone is either a youth or a farmer. Suicide was one of the first issues the government prioritised to address soon after it took office. Following a study, an action plan was implemented to help prevent suicide cases in the country.
If the implementation of the action plan in the last two years is to be assessed by the number of suicide cases, we have much to do. At least eight suicide cases were reported every month until May this year. Last year, suicide cases averaged seven a month.
Some may argue that it is because of the action plan and the suicide prevention programme that we are not seeing an increase in the number of suicide cases. Such claims may be accepted but not without acknowledging the finding that suicide cases are grossly underreported in the country. It has been found that for every 4.5 suicide deaths, there is one case of suicide attempt case recorded. When such numbers make suicide among the top six leading causes of deaths in the country today, we have a problem – an issue of national concern that needs collective action.
A recent WHO study on mental health status of adolescents in the region found that 11 percent of adolescents in the country attempted suicide more than once over the last 12 months, while 14 percent made suicide plans, and 12 percent considered attempting suicide. The study also found 26 percent of adolescents reporting low level of parental engagement, which significantly increases the risk of suicidal attempts. It noted that 26 percent of students reported bullying in schools in the country, which means that they were almost three to five times more likely to report attempting suicide in the past 12 months than students who were not bullied.
Such trends are worrying. Our adolescents are reporting anxiety, loneliness and lack of friends and parental guidance. We are losing touch with the younger generation and parents are finding it harder to understand their children. When these children are bullied in schools, we have students taking solace in controlled substances or in ending their lives. Health officials are right to point out that the education sector could play an important role in preventing suicides. There is a need for the sector and the society to look at the issue of substance abuse and bullying among students beyond the lens of discipline policy. It maybe time for us to understand our youth’s troubles before we rush to correct their behaviours.
That our youth and farmers are so troubled that they are willing to take their own lives indicate the level of hopelessness they live with today. We must address the issues of bullying in schools to domestic violence at home more effectively. Parents must understand that giving children large sum of pocket money doesn’t compensate for their lack of time and engagement with children. Our religious institutions and civil society organisations must participate more in engaging youth and explain them the values of being alive and together. If we have become a society where troubles manifest in suicides, we have not done well. Not at all.