NCRB data reveals a rise in the suicide rate among men in the city. But not many realise simple intervention can make a difference between life and death

In Chennai, suicide rate among men has risen considerably. This picture emerges from the suicide data provided by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). The male-to-female suicide ratio for Chennai is 2.8:1 — in plain terms, for every woman who takes the extreme step, around three men do the same thing. At 2.5:1, the ratio for 2010 also suggested that Chennai men were emotionally more brittle than their female counterparts. When juxtaposed with the ratio for 2005 — placed at 1.4:1 — these figures point to a clear spike in suicidal tendencies among the city’s male population.

“As a combination of factors leads to suicide, nothing but a sustained and diversified study will help nail the reasons for this situation. The figures for Chennai contrast sharply with those for entire Tamil Nadu. In 2011, the male-female suicide ratio for the State was 1.8:1 and the ratios over the last seven years have remained stable, pointing to a narrower gap between the genders at the State level. To unravel the truth, research has to be carried out, including studies on women in Chennai and on those in the semi-urban and rural parts of Tamil Nadu,” said Lakshmi Vijaykumar, psychiatrist and founder of Sneha, a suicide prevention group, during a discussion on World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10).

Among possible causes that triggered this trend are changing family dynamics and a shift in power as a result of new economic realities. “Picture this. Barely has a girl passed out of college with a degree than a BPO ropes her in for a salary of Rs. 20,000 per month. In shocking contrast, her father draws only Rs. 5,000 p.m. after having served an organisation for around 25 years. In such cases, shift in power at home usually happens. Adding to the problem, this girl would lead a dichotomous life. She may live in Ayodhya Mandapam. But at work, she would answer calls as if she were someone from Georgia,” says Lakshmi.

Not just in the male-female ratio, but Chennai has registered other changes on the suicide map. “Among the Indian metros, the city tops the table for number of suicides. Bangalore had this dubious distinction until edged out by Chennai,” said Lakshmi.

She names Kasimedu, Ayanavaram and Choolaimedu as areas from where suicides are more frequently reported. Poor literacy levels and rampant alcoholism rank high among factors contributing to the situation there. “Choolaimedu was in the news in 2003 for a spurt in suicides. A battalion of voluntary and Government organisations swung in and addressed the issue. Following the intervention, there was a dip in suicide rate. But eventually the efforts petered out and the locality went back to square one,” said Lakshmi. The doctor cites the contagion effect for persistently high suicide rates in these localities. Defeatist and impulsive attitudes can be picked up like infections.

To illustrate the significance of interventionist strategy in controlling suicidal rates in high-risk areas, she narrated the experience in Srinivasapuram and Kasimedu. These coastal fishing localities had borne the brunt of the 2004 Tsunami and reports of suicides by bereaved relatives came thick and fast. After identifying the families in distress, a Sneha volunteer began to deal with the issue. Recalled Lakshmi, “A volunteer would spend an hour or two every month at the house of each bereaved family. At the end of the year, positive changes came to fore, reinforcing the belief that simple interventions often make the difference between life and death.”