Why are Indians committing suicide?

A look at the data

Source: NCRB

So what does this picture suggest for policymakers? Well, that if every life is equally worth saving, then it makes sense to prioritise family problems and illnesses as causes of preventing suicides. Targeting suicides among farmers is no doubt a worthy cause and it gets a lot of media attention, but what about the young people who decide that there is no life after failing in love or in exams?

Suicides are an emotional subject. But addressing the problem requires an unsentimental and dispassionate analysis. Unfortunately the passionate arguments made by presumably well-meaning activists risk distorting policy priorities that ultimately result in unsatisfactory outcomes.

In a recent paper in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Lakshmi Vijaykumar writes that if the results of two large epidemiological verbal autopsies are extrapolated, the actual number of suicides could rise to six to nine time higher than the official figures, or at least half-a-million suicides every year. She draws attention to an “urgent need develop a national plan for suicide prevention in India”.

Update:Does anyone have a copy of Dr Nagaraj’s report, mentioned here?

7 thoughts on “Why are Indians committing suicide?”

  1. I have one more question.

    How does the rate of suicide among farmers compare with that among, say, factory workers? Do we have the data at all to make comparisons?

  2. Oldtimer,

    It’s available from the NCRB report, here. Housewives are the single largest category (by occupation) at 21.2%, while the super-category of self-employed persons (business, professionals, farmers and others) constitutes 39.4%. As a category, farmers constitute 15% and ‘others’ 16.5%.

    Dr Nagaraj’s study, quoted in today’s Hindu, states that a farmer is defined as one who owns land. Therefore the “others” in the category could be landless farmers, labourers etc. I’ve not seen the Dr Nagaraj’s report itself and it is not available on the web.

  3. Nitin, thanks for the pointer to suicide stats. Dark reading.

    I realized that that data won’t do, and that I asked the wrong question. We need to ask what is the “per capita suicide rate” (eg: number of suicides per thousand of category population) among various professions, and try and see if that analysis leads us somewhere.

    I suspect that the percetange of suicides from farming/agriculture sector would naturally be higher since a big chunk of Indian population is in that sector.

  4. Agreed. But my interest in figuring whether the claims of some people vis-a-vis farmers suicides are correct or not.

    So let me propose a hypotheis. Assume that suicides are caused by any of N number of factors. We shall define these factors at a sufficient level of abstraction to apply to all categories of population, but at the same time worded vaguely enough to account for diverse underlying causes. For instance “financial burdens/insecurity” applies to all kinds of population, though for farmers, as alleged by some, this insecurity may have been directly caused by economic reforms, globalization and other such evils.

    Now my hypothesis is that all these factors are evenly distributed across various categories of population. If this is correct, then “per capita suicide rate” among farmers would be no higher than among people of other professions. Suppose it is, then we’ll need to drill down to the level of detail you suggested.

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