More than a sixth of suicides in India in 2016 due to health reasons

More than a sixth of suicides in India in 2016 due to health reasons

More than a sixth of suicides in India were due to ‘illness’, according to data recently released by the National Crime Records Bureau. Mental health issues could have played a large role in this, the data indicated.

The need to prevent suicides has drawn little attention in the country though they outstrip the combined toll of AIDS and maternal death. Reducing the count by a third by 2030 is among the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal.

In 2016, ‘insanity’ or mental illness, cancer, paralysis and sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS were among the major health issues that pushed people to take their lives. Alarmingly, 932 in the category were not yet adults.

Cause Below 18 years 18 – Below 30 years 30 yrs. – Below 45 years 45 yrs. – Below 60 years 60 years & above
Illness (total) 932 5297 6737 5611 3834
AIDS/STD 4 42 97 35 20
Cancer  5 110 246 320 194
Paralysis  14 117  209  245 157
Insanity/ mental illness 411 2329 2733 1987 1167

An estimated 150 million Indians live with mental health disorders; only one in 10 get necessary treatment. This treatment gap could be contributing to the high suicide rate.

In 2018, the Union government brought the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 into effect. It decriminalised suicide and was aimed to reduce stress on victims. The law also sought free healthcare, treatment, and rehabilitation, but supporting infrastructure has been scarce. Budgetary support has been paltry too.

Vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu once admitted that high out-of-pocket expenses for mental health treatment impeded access to treatment. Public healthcare needed to be strengthened, he said while inaugurating the 19th Annual Conference of Indian Association of Private Psychiatry in November 2018.

Until that was done, medical insurance should cover psychiatric disorders.

India recorded 1,31,008 suicides in 2016, a 2 per cent dip from 2015. ‘Illness’ accounted for 17.1 per cent suicides, led only by ‘family problems’ (other than marriage-related) at 29.2 per cent.

Twelve States and Union Territories reported to be higher than the All India average in suicides due to “illness”. 

State No. of suicides Share (in %)
Andhra Pradesh 2,002 33.0
Tamil Nadu 3,983  26.2
Goa 67  24.5
Karnataka 2,567  24.0
Sikkim 60  22.8
Kerala  1,734  22.5
Puducherry  122  21.7
Gujarat 1,677  21.7
Madhya Pradesh 2,249  21.5
Mizoram 25  20.2
Punjab 283  19.7
Maharashtra  3,154  18.3

The average rate of suicides (per one lakh people) was 10.3, but it was much higher in some states and Union territories such as Sikkim (40.5), Puducherry (33.3), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (26.4), Chhattisgarh (25.8) and Telangana (24.5).

Among states with a significant jump in suicides were Nagaland (61.9 per cent), Jharkhand (54.7 per cent), Punjab (37.3 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (18.2 per cent) and Delhi (16.8 per cent). Sharp drops were recorded in Uttarakhand (68 per cent), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (48.1 per cent), Lakshadweep (40 per cent), Puducherry (21.1 per cent) and Bihar (20.3 per cent).

The report, however, did not offer any reason for these.