Suicide cases, still a concern

Bhutan is ranked 54th in the world in terms of deaths by suicides

In the last three years, a total of 272 Bhutanese took their own lives, with 81 suicide cases recorded as of November 2018 alone. 

In 2017, 99 suicide cases were recorded up from 92 in 2016. In five years between 2009 and 2013, 361 suicide cases were recorded according to the National Suicide Prevention Program (NSPP).

As per World Health Organization’s data, suicide deaths in Bhutan reached 91 or 2.11% of total deaths in 2017. Bhutan ranked 59 in the world in 2017, with suicide deaths at 12.16 per 100,000 of population. Bhutan’s ranking has further dipped to 54 in 2018 according to World Population Review data, with suicide rate o 11.4 per 100,000 of population.

The Program Officer with NSPP,  Yeshi Wangdi, said that suicide rate in Bhutan has been fluctuating. “The rate of suicides in the country is a concern,” he said, “and it contradicts the religious belief and Gross National Happiness mandate.”

A three-year action plan on suicide prevention in Bhutan was started on 2016 with the directive from the cabinet of previous government. The national strategic prevention program was initiated to prevent premature deaths across lifespan due to suicide among the Bhutanese population.

Beginning 2016, every dzongkhag has a suicide registry to maintain the data and provide first hand help to those who are in need.

The program aims to improve the capacity of health services and gate keepers to provide suicide prevention services and to create awareness on how to improve access to suicide prevention services and support for individuals in psychosocial crisis and those most at risk of suicide (including those with suicidal ideation, history of self-harm or non-fatal suicide attempt).

In addition, the program also aims to improve leadership, multisectoral engagement and partnerships for suicide prevention in the communities. The NSPP involves 20 dzongkhags’ suicide response team chaired by the dzongdags, local leaders and responsible relevant agencies. 

The underlining factors for suicide in Bhutan, as per the Program Officer, are mental illness, psychological issues and social issues, including cultural factors such as external marital affairs and relationship issues are also some of the reasons for suicides. “Addiction to drugs and alcohol also contributes to certain percentage of self harm,” he said. 

Yeshi Wangdi said awareness and educating people are the ways to prevent suicides since it is difficult to predict the cause, study individual behavior and to provide support at the critical time. “While some people do not consult medical services because they fear stigmatization, peer interventions, early case detection followed by counseling are some of the major steps to bring down the cases of suicides,” he said.

 As per 2009 to 2013 report, only 12% of 319 cases consulted medical and counseling services. “Individual sensitization and acceptance of one’s mental problem and consulting the psychiatrist on time will help reduce self-harm rates,” said Yeshi Wangdi.

The NSPP record showed that suicide cases are prominent between the age group of 21 to 40 years. High suicide rates are seen among the male while female recorded high attempts to suicide.

Samtse and Chukha Dzongkhags recorded the highest number of suicide cases between 2016 and 2017.

The NSSP has been drafting another action plan beginning July 2018. 

Phub Dem from Thimphu