Recently, a student from the Royal Thimphu College committed suicide. Informal records reveal that about five students from the college have committed suicide so far.
According to the National Suicide Registry of the health ministry, Bhutan saw 92 suicides last year, an increase from an average of 73 cases annually recorded in the past years.
An analysis of suicide rates by job shows farmers at the top of the list. As per the suicide registry, of the 92 people who committed suicide in 2016, 34 were farmers.
Age wise, the suicide rate is high among the age group of 21-30. 29 of the total 92 cases reported last year were between the ages 21 to 30.
In fact, according to the National Suicide Prevention Action Plan from July 2015-June 2018, suicide deaths outnumber the combined deaths due to TB, malaria and HIV.
In a five year review of suicide cases from 2009-13 in Bhutan, a total of 361 suicide deaths were documented by the Royal Bhutan Police.
The completed suicide rate in Bhutan is 10 per 100,000 population, slightly lower than the global rate of 11.4 per 100,000 population per year. The proportion of suicide deaths among all deaths is 4.5% higher than the corresponding proportion of 1.4% in the low middle income countries. Suicide occurs among the most productive age groups; 87% of deaths occurred within the age group of 15-40 years.
The main reasons attributed for attempted suicides were depression and drug abuse.
What is driving people, especially youth, to premature deaths of their own doing? Some would say it is an inherent weakness on the part of those who commit suicide such as overt sensitivity and inability to cope with hard realities including failure in life. Some would even relate it to defeatism, fatalism and escapism.
While all this may hold true to some degree, is the society where they grow up in and are conditioned to react in certain ways free of blame?
It seems we have taught our youth that giving in is so much easier than fighting. We have taught our youth that life is all about parameters of beauty, conventional success, wealth and image. And if we do not measure up, we are incorrigible failures. We have taught our youth that what the rest of the world thinks about us is more important than what we think of ourselves. We have taught our youth to define themselves by almost unrealistic expectations, rules and notions.
The family, the community and educational institutes, in fact the whole system is responsible not to let skewered thinking blind our youth to the fact that there is more to life than a cent percent on their Math test or qualifying for a medical degree, being on the hot list or being the most popular guy or girl in the crowd. Life is more than the number of followers we have on Facebook or Twitter. Life is more than having wads of money in our wallet. Life is more than the image staring back at us from the mirror. Life is more than all the aspects that are quintessentially life. That is the beauty of life and its intrinsic worth.
We need to value life as it comes only once. There will always be struggles, heartbreak and pain but we can teach our youth either to succumb or be fighters.
Which is why recognizing the fact that suicides are happening at an alarming rate in the country is the first step toward combating this lethal social ill. Living in denial does not help. In line with this, the three-year National Suicide Prevention Action Plan of which the National Suicide Registry is a part was endorsed and implemented from 2015 to prevent suicide in the country.
We are not saying this is not a fair start but how far is the action plan being implemented?
Universal strategies outlined in the action plan include mass media and public information dissemination, religious beliefs and cultural practices, suicide prevention in schools and institutions, and mental health services. Selective strategies include psychosocial support for vulnerable women and children, those battling addiction and substance abuse, and counseling and access to services and care for individuals at heightened risk of suicide.
But all this would do little good to remain only on paper.
What we must do apart from hammering the right priorities and vision into our people is to implement a multi-pronged approach to suicide prevention that takes care of all the holistic aspects and needs of an individual to prepare him or her for the journey that life is: tough but awesome.