New Delhi: Every 40 seconds, a suicide is committed somewhere in the world; one of every three suicides takes place in India. This is the finding of a decade-long study by the World Health Organisation or WHO.
The report released today says that an Indian commits suicide every two minutes. In 2012, WHO believes that 2.5 lakh people killed themselves in India. The government's estimates are significantly lower.
It's young people who appear most vulnerable - the maximum suicides in India were committed in the age group 15-29 years. More men kill themselves than women in India.
"There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide," said Shekhar Saxena, the lead author of the WHO report who heads the organisation's Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in Geneva.
"It is an extremely serious problem and it is likely to increase in future because of materialism coming into the society. Social disparity, economic disparity, educational disparity, access to health care is limited and many other reasons all lead to this problem," said Professor MC Misra, Director at the country's premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences. He volunteered, "Recently my own sister's daughter committed suicide for no reason."
He cautioned, "We need to be very proactive in our approach to identify the symptoms because if somebody has attempted suicide once it is likely that he or she will do it again."
Most suicides are preventable, says WHO. In India, the organisation says, the first step should be to decriminalise an attempted suicide.
Today, the survivor of an attempted suicide can be arrested and kept in jail for a year. Experts say such draconian and outdated laws inhibit people from seeking much needed support and help.
Dr Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist with the Public Health Foundation of India, New Delhi says, "Making suicides a health care priority will help since a lot of young Indians are killing themselves and more so in relatively affluent states like Punjab, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. (Also See: 'India Needs to Make Suicides a Health Care Priority')
Other measures to prevent suicides include restricting access to poisonous material like pesticides, ensuring high railings on bridges (Mumbai's Bandra-Worli Sea Link has witnessed four suicides in two weeks) and controlling the sale of firearms. Mr Patel explains Sri Lanka cut down its suicide rate by half simply by controlling its sale of pesticides.