- Sonali Quantius
Every 25 minutes...(*trigger warning)
Photo by Naveed Ahmed in Unsplash
...an Indian woman kills herself by suicide.
India's National Crime Registry (NCRB) recorded that 22,372 housewives committed suicide last year. On average, there are about 61 Indian women commit suicide per day or one person every 25 minutes.
Women in India account for 36% of global female suicide deaths, despite making up less than 18% of the world's female population (source: Lancet Public Health, October 2018) and it is increasing every year. According to WHO, India ranks number 7th in the world in 2019 in suicide rates by women, age-standardized, per 100,000 population (after Lesotho, Guyana, Zimbabwe, South Korea, Micronesia, and Suriname, in that order).
And among the Indian women, housewives accounted for 14.6% of the total 153,052 recorded suicides in 2020 and more than 50% of the total number of women who killed themselves.
So why are so many Indian housewives killing themselves? What would prompt a woman at the prime of her life to end it? I have no answers, but having grown up in India, I can understand it at a visceral level. When lockdowns were announced in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a part of my heart sank, because I knew that for many, it was a protection for their physical health, but not so much for their mental health. And as predicted, mental health issues and the rate of suicides went up in the last 2 years.
There are many reasons why the suicide rate in Indian women is so high. Socio-economic causes, a patriarchal society that places getting married above the individual happiness and potential of women, and rampant domestic violence. Mental health support and prevention are not part of the psyche and sensitivity towards women who need this support is not part of the education, neither formally nor informally. The issues are deep-rooted in tradition and cannot be changed overnight.
But - what we can do, and should be able to do - is to reach the women on time, and offer qualified help, wherever we can.
There are 0.7 qualified mental health professionals per 100,000 people in India. But it is not the lack of mental health professionals, it is the lack of access to proper help. Prevention and support do not need a qualified mental health professional, they need to be available when it is needed. Many of these deaths are attributed to an impulsive decision when there is an incident of domestic violence and the decision to end a life is taken almost immediately. What if there was someone trustworthy who she could turn to at that moment and more importantly, know how to get to them? What if we can use digital health to reach these women on time?
Nearly 40% of female suicides occur in India - surely this is a public health crisis and needs urgent attention?
However, there is hope. There is a slow, but steady awareness of mental health issues in India, and even while the pandemic increased the mental health issues, it also created an awareness of its existence. A recent report by the LiveLoveLaugh Foundation which conducted a study across 9 cities recently showed that >70% of the respondents were aware of depression with 65% getting this knowledge from social media. But what was very striking, in my view, is that a whopping 92% of respondents spread across these nine cities would seek treatment and support a person seeking treatment for mental illness, up from 54% in 2018.
I have hope when there is awareness of mental health issues, it is often the first step. But there is a long way to go if we were to reach all these women on time, which is what we are working hard towards at Haplomind.