They accounted for nearly 45% of burn cases at KMCH last year

About two months ago, while his wife and four-year-old daughter were asleep, Senthil* doused himself with kerosene and lit a match. He was drunk at the time.

The 27-year-old from Tiruvannamalai was admitted to Government Kilpauk Medical College Hospital (KMCH) on Friday and is now recovering from severe burns that cover most of his body.

A look around the male burns ward at KMCH reveals that many of the patients there are young, and have burns all over their bodies. Over the last decade or so, the hospital, a nodal centre for burns treatment in the State, has seen a rise in the number of men admitted with burn injuries.

Between 1981 and 2001, men made up about 37 per cent of all burns cases seen, with women accounting for over 63 per cent (excluding children). However, between March 2013 and this month, men accounted for nearly 45 per cent of the cases admitted at the hospital (excluding children).

“Around 80 per cent of the men admitted here have self-inflicted injuries,” said J. Jaganmohan, head, burns and plastic surgery department at the hospital. The rest come in with burns caused by trying to rescue their wives who attempted self-immolation, or accidents and injuries at the workplace, he said.

Alcoholism and marital problems, Dr. Jaganmohan said, seemed to be the leading causes.

Venkat*, a 25-year-old who has been at the hospital for a month, said he was drunk when he set himself ablaze. But his mother contradicted him: “He was not paid for three weeks and this led to a big fight between him and his wife. After that, he attempted suicide,” she said.

Still heavily covered in bandages, Venkat looked away as his mother explained that his wife was at home, looking after their three children.

“Until about 20 years ago, it was women who primarily used self-immolation to commit suicide. More men are now using this method for a number of reasons: the easy availability of kerosene, the influence of the media and also because it is now used as a political tool, so it is no longer seen as a ‘female method’,” said Lakshmi Vijayakumar, consultant on suicides for the World Health Organisation, and founder of SNEHA, a suicide prevention centre.

She said, however, that though there had been a slight increase in the number of men attempting self-immolation, this increase was not statistically significant.

In a number of television soaps, self-immolation was shown as a way of solving interpersonal problems and this had had a huge impact on those with suicidal tendencies, said Dr. Vijayakumar.

Alcohol too, contributes. “For many men, committing suicide is a way of escaping from alcoholism. Others, who are depressed or feel an inability to relate to those close to them, take to alcohol. But this only increases their chances of indulging in self-destructive behaviour as it produces more guilt,” said M. Thirunavukkarasu, Asian representative to the World Psychiatric Association.

Right now, all Senthil can think of is how he will work again. Both his hands are badly burnt but he is hoping against hope he regains full use of them soon.

(*Names changed to protect privacy.)

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