Professor Vikram Patel, of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, explained: "Suicide kills nearly as many Indian men aged 15-29 as transportation accidents and nearly as many young women as complications from pregnancy and childbirth."
The researchers examined data from the Registrar General of India's first national survey of the causes of mortality. The survey was carried out in 2001-2003.
The majority of people in India pass away at home, particularly those living in rural areas, and without medical attention. Like in the majority of developing nations, their deaths have no certifiable cause and are not recorded in the public health system.
According to the researchers, approximately 3% of people aged 15+ in India die as a result of suicide. The United Nations estimated that in 2010, around 187,000 people in the country committed suicide. 40% of those men who committed suicide were aged between 15 and 29 years old, while 56% of women were aged 15-29.
Furthermore, suicide rates were found to be 10 times higher in the south of the country than the in the north and significantly higher in rural parts of the country. Professor Patel is unsure why rates were higher in the south as southern states are comparatively richer than the north. However, he highlighted that there is a comparable north-south gradation in suicides reported by India's national suicide reporting system.
Professor Patel explained:
"The large variations we observed between states clearly point to the role of as yet poorly understood social factors in influencing the risk of suicide in India. We recored a reduced risk of suicide versus other causes of death in women who were widowed, divorced or separated, compared with married women and men, a finding consistent with China but in contrast with the higher risks of suicide reported in formerly married women and men in the USA.
Prior to this national survey of deaths, we simply did not know the cause of death of many Indians. So the real credit for counting the dead, including suicide, goes to the Registrar General for their efforts to enhance reliable reporting of causes of death in India."
According to the researchers, approximately 50% of suicide deaths were due to poisoning, primarily ingesting pesticides. The second most common cause among men and women was hanging and burns were responsible for around 16% of suicides by women.
Even though suicide in India kills twice as many people than HIV-AIDS and almost the same amount of people as maternal deaths in young women, suicide receives significantly less public attention. The majority of people in India, do not have access to care for mental illnesses, such as depression, or access to suicide prevention programs. Evidence-based strategies could reduce the burden of suicide, say the researchers. One strategy would be to restrict access to organophosphate pesticides.
Professor Patel explained: "The Ministry of Health of the Government of India is currently in the process of revising the National Mental Health Program and we hope that the study findings will provide evidence to improve mental health care in India."
In a joint comment, Michael R. Phillips and Hui Cheng, of the Shanghai Mental Health Center in China and the Emory School of Medicine in the United States said:
"These unexpected findings...show that the importance of some of the demographic, social, and psychological factors that have been assumed to be universal risk factors for suicide can, in fact, vary greatly between cultures and over time."
Written By Grace Rattue http://www.thelancet.com/series/suicide