When the General Assembly of the World Health Organisation passed a resolution to reduce suicides by 10 per cent, India was among the 120 countries to sign it. However, subsequently, the nation with one of the highest suicide rates in the world has since been silent about how exactly it is aiming at achieving this huge task. On World Suicide Day, it is pertinent to raise questions about how the country will achieve that target.

As per National Crime Records Bureau, last year, there were 1,35,444 suicides in the country. Going by the same source, there were 15 suicides every hour, and 371 suicides a day. Clearly, India had good reason to sign on the dotted line when the WHO put forth its proposal. Additionally, a paper by Vikram Patel and Lakshmi Vijayakumar ‘Suicide mortality in India: a nationally representative survey’ in The Lancet indicated that there was at least 25 per cent under-reporting.

While rolling out a programme in pursuit of its goal of reducing the suicides, the Centre could take lessons from the experience of a few States (and Union Territories), including Kerala and Puducherry, explains Lakshmi Vijayakumar, who founded Sneha, a suicide prevention helpline in Chennai. A decade ago, Puducherry had a suicide rate of 57.9 and Kerala, 28.9, last year, it had come down to 36.8 and 24.3, respectively.

The State governments tried outreach programmes through the District Mental Health Programmes, and they seem to have had an effect, Dr. Vijayakumar explains. “The basic problem is that people believe suicide is not their problem – that suicide is an individual’s right and we do not have any right to intervene. However, there are factors impinging on the decision to kill oneself that we can change: poverty, unemployment. Suicide is always due to a variety of factors.”

“It is important to put suicide on the agenda: planners and policymakers should realise it is a great drain on resources because it takes away youth in the prime of their life. A large proportion of adult suicide deaths occur between the ages of 15 years and 29 years in India,” she adds.

In addition, for each completed suicide, there are many who attempted to kill themselves but have survived, and families who continue to live on, explains Shekar Saxena, Director, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, WHO.

“One thing relevant to India is regulating the storage and availability of pesticides, which are used by a large number of people,” he says. Public health measures include restricting availability of fire arms and timely help to people at high risk.

The first world suicide report is slated for release next September, he informs. This is an initiative of the WHO, in collaboration with various agencies globally. The focus is on the numbers. We are hoping to calculate and estimate in a fresh way the number of people who commit and attempt suicide. We are going back to see what are the factors that are pushing them to it, and what we can do for prevention.”

“In India, the plan is to involve a broad network of all stakeholders from different arenas, and this time, look into school data as well,” Dr. Vijayakumar, who will lead the effort from India, adds.