Nepali Times
Suicide rates are rising


l Mina was a vibrant 19-year-old, a dedicated student and passionate about sports. Popular and outgoing, she had a lot of friends. Earlier this year, Mina came back from college went to her room, locked the door and hanged herself by the ceiling fan. Her shocked family and friends were completely bewildered-they had no idea Mina was going through such personal turmoil.

l Ganesh was the class clown. From mixed parentage he was considered smart, funny and outgoing. At 19 years of age he was teaching at a prestigious school and was also applying to undergraduate colleges abroad. One afternoon, he locked his bedroom room, turned the music loud and hanged himself by a rope. Ganesh had shown signs of alienation but no one expected him to take his own life.

Statistics are sparse but available figures show that suicide is on the rise in Nepal. The cloud of conflict hanging over the nation for the past decade appears to be a factor: people, particularly the young, worry about their future and many internalise a sense of hopelessness. Unable to cope, stressed with daily life and unable to confide to family and friends about their worries, some end up taking their own lives.

"There are always clues when a person is depressed or alienated but many of us can't pick up on them. Taking one's own life is the ultimate decision as emotions build up and there is no outlet. It rarely a result of just one surge of emotion," says psychiatrist Biswa Bandhu.

Deputy Superintendent of Police Ganesh KC says he has seen an eight-year-old commit suicide due to sibling rivalry and even a Grade three student who killed herself as she was unable to come first in class. He says, "Children are exposed to stories of suicides, even though they may not fully understand the implications."

Worldwide suicide rates are soaring. Lithuania leads the pack with 45.8 suicides per 100,000 people each year. Closer to home, Sri Lanka has the highest rate: 30.7/100,000. At about 10 suicides per 100,000 people Nepal is down the scale but rates here are climbing. Within Nepal, it is Ilam that has the highest suicide rate, with 25/100,000 per year. The pattern seems to be that it is not poverty but higher literacy, joblessness and relatively high living standard that increase alienation and the incidence of suicide.

Police statistics show that 239 people killed themselves in Kathmandu in 2004-2005 compared to 207 the previous year. Twenty four people out of the 239 who commited suicide in Kathmandu this year were under 14 years of age. In the far west the number of suicides this year has already reached 197. Hanging (in hill areas) and swallowing poison (in the tarai) are preferred methods but Nepalis are increasingly committing suicide with firearms. Last year there was only one case of a person shooting himself in Kathmandu, this year there were six.

Just as the conflict is responsible for easier access to firearms, it plays a major factor in people's mental health, says Shaligram Bhattarai, counsellor at Little Angels School. "The main reason for the increase in suicide rates is the situation of the country. The unstable environment creates instability within the individual making them unable to focus leading to frustration, especially among the youth".

Depression is the biggest killer and usually people don't even realise the extent of their own depression.

Rabi Rai, 26, has suffered from depression for the past 12 years. His troubles started at 14 when his teacher reprimanded him in front of his entire class and also hit him. The event so traumatised Rabi that he soon lost interest in going to school and eventually in the world around him. As his feelings of worthlessness increased, he shut himself up in his own world of misery and tried to kill himself many times.

Bhattarai counselled Rabi and recalls, "He was depressed and cut himself off from the world. He just wouldn't communicate. It took many sessions before I could get him to respond by writing on bits of paper."

The teenage years are considered to be the most agonising and to grow up in a country that is itself in a state of flux has taken its toll on vulnerable youngsters. "Ego boundaries of today's youth are not defined and they have problems reconciling themselves to the expectations their parents have and to finding themselves as well," says Bhattarai.

The answer to dealing with all these pressures is for the whole family to be part of the growing-up process. Says Mahendra Kumar Nepal, professor and head of the Department of Psychiatry at Teaching Hospital. "It is essential that parents know what is happening in the lives of their children and provide support," he adds.

As Nepal's social, economic and political fabric is ripped apart, the people seem to be losing their sense of 'self'. Maybe it's about time that instead of peace for political reasons we pushed peace for social reasons.

Some names have been changed to protect their identities.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)