Kerala has many firsts to its credit, but statistics from the State Crime Records Bureau reflect a worrying trend in suicides.
Statistics for the past five years show an increase in the number of people who have died by suicide in the state. The number of suicide cases increased by 21.3% to 9,549 in 2021, from 7,870 in 2017.
On closer inspection, 22.86 lakh people passed the extreme leap in 2017. It rose to 27.20 in 2021, although Kerala boasts of having met most of the targets set by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The situation raises serious questions about whether the state has achieved desired suicide prevention and mental health goals.
Double the national average
The suicide rate in Kerala is more than double the national average of 11.3 in 2021. According to statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, the northeastern state of Sikkim has reported the highest number of suicides with an average of 42, followed by Chhattisgarh with 26.4.
Kerala is now third on the list with an average of 24, moving up two places from fifth five years ago.
The figures mentioned speak only of committed suicides, not of attempts. The number of offers of suicide is also alarming. Studies have pointed out that attempts are 20 times more than reported suicides.
According to the studies, Kerala may have witnessed around 1,90,000 suicide attempts in 2021 alone. It is both alarming and empowering to know that the state has reported, on average, 26 suicide deaths and 523 suicide attempts daily.
The state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, has reported the highest number of suicides in the last five years (36.8 suicides in 2017, 42 in 2021), which requires further study.
Malappuram has reported a relatively lower number of suicides in recent years (7.6 in 2017, 11.5 in 2022). The data, however, indicates a gradual increase in the number of suicides in the Northern District as well.
Statistics have revealed that people between the ages of 15 and 45 make up the majority of people who take the extreme step. More men commit suicide than women in Kerala, with a male to female ratio of 3:1. The universal ratio is one woman for every 1.7 men.
Another worrying factor are the suicide pacts involving the whole family. As many as 25 people were involved in such suicide pacts in 2020. Kerala ranks behind Andhra Pradesh (46), Tamil Nadu (45), Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan (39 each) in suicide pacts. suicide.
Lately, incidents of spurned lovers committing suicide after murdering their love interests are also on the rise in Kerala.
Suicide pacts and crimes of passion and subsequent suicides are causing a sensation. It is ideal not to make such incidents public. Excessive publicity of such incidents might lead some to believe that suicide is the solution to the problems they face in life.
Statistics also reveal that 78% of those who have committed suicide are married, while single people make up the majority of those who have taken the extreme step in Western countries.
Domestic problems were behind 39% of reported suicides in Kerala. This figure reflects the inability of the new generation to manage these problems and their lack of patience to consider alternative solutions.
Physical and mental illnesses have been attributed to 69.5% of reported suicides in the state. The number of people who committed suicide due to mental illness in Kerala (20.5%) is higher than the national average of 5%.
The national sample survey found that 132 people out of a one lakh population suffered from mental disorders. In Kerala, however, the number of 282, double that of the national figure. Although the number is high, the state has turned a blind eye to the issue.
Many suicides could be avoided if prompt and effective treatment were provided. Suicide tendency among people with illnesses such as depression, excessive alcoholism, drug addiction and schizophrenia is 10-15%. Treating them at the initial stage itself might prevent them from overcoming.
The role of society
Several factors – physical, mental, social, financial and cultural – influence the decision to commit suicide, a complex phenomenon. It is not scientific to attribute a single motive to a suicide. Kerala has undergone several changes over the past few years, and they too must be taken into account.
Several expats lost their jobs and returned home, businesses went bankrupt due to COVID-19, greater drug addiction, post-lockdown behavioral changes among teens, blind following of Western culture , cultural decadence, movies and TV series glorifying suicides, increase in natural calamities, etc., has affected the mental balance of the average Malayali.
There is a misconception that those who talk about committing suicide may not be taking the extreme step. It is wrong. Those who contemplate suicide share their thoughts, directly or indirectly, with others, which are often ignored with tragic consequences.
Even if the person contemplating suicide does not express their thoughts, they certainly show noticeable signs. Facial expressions, emotional detachment, crying, fatigue, lack of interest, recklessness, feelings of guilt, needless panic, introversion, insomnia, loss of appetite, substance abuse, refusal to take medication, reckless driving, preparation of will are some of them. signs of suicidal tendencies. Some others tend to be more energetic than usual.
Many people could be encouraged to come back to life if they had a patient and understanding listener on whom they could pour out their woes without inhibition. Immediate treatment should be provided if mental illness is causing suicidal thoughts.
People facing family issues should open up to someone they can confide in, a friend or family member. Help from professional advisers should be sought if the problem is complex.
The government, for its part, could open suicide prevention centers at least once a week in all taluk and district hospitals.
Death by hanging
The majority of suicides (78%) reported in Kerala were by hanging. The easy availability of pesticides and the ability to buy drugs without a prescription contribute to 9.4% and 2.6% of suicides in the state.
The establishment of hotlines accessible 24 hours a day could prevent several improvised suicides. The way forward, however, is to equip every citizen to face social and financial issues with confidence.
(The writer is the founding director of Kozhikode-based Tanal, a suicide prevention center.)