The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 21, 2001

Dealing with the death wish
By Radhakrishna Rao

FRUSTRATION, depression, emotional upheaval and unbearable physical suffering and mental trauma as well as physiological distress are often the reasons why people commit suicide. In recent years, dowry-related violence, spread of consumerism, rapid urbanisation and pressure to succeed have all conspired to push up the suicide rate in India. In India, about nine out of every 100,000 persons commit suicide every year as against the global average of eight per 100,000. But what has surprised sociologists and psychologists alike is that a highly literate and socially advanced state like Kerala has an abnormally high rate of suicides. What’s more, the number of children committing suicide in the state has increased substantially over the years.

In mid -2000, Kerala Chief Minister E.K. Nayanar pointed out that 34,523 persons committed suicide in the state between 1995 and 1999. He also expressed his horror at the growing trend of children committing suicide in the state. An influx of petro-dollars sent by Keralites working in West Asian countries, rapid urbanisation, growing unemployment along with a lack of emotional outlet for the educated, seem to be the reasons for the high suicide rate.


Psychologists are of view that adults generally commit suicide for socio logical and economic reasons. In distinct contrast, the younger ones who commit suicide go to the extreme of ending their lives simply because of "emotional jerks". However, social psychologists hold parents responsible for making their offering vulnerable to the attack of "emotional fits".

For example, 11-year-old Saumya of Mamalassery committed suicide by hanging herself using her mother’s saree for the simple reason that she was scolded for quarrelling with her younger sister. In yet another incident, 14-year-old Neetu of Kottayam committed suicide by consuming poison as she was not allowed to watch TV. Similarly, a 24-year-old youth in the harbour city of Kochi committed suicide by consuming an excessive dose of sleeping pills because his parents refused to buy a car for him. Of course, his well-to-do parents followed in his steps when they ended their lives by hanging moments after their son was found dead.

According to Praveen Lal, Head of the Psychiatry Department at Medical College at Trissur in Central Kerala, the level of tolerance in the younger generation is abysmally poor. They can neither take a "no" for an answer nor are they mentally robust enough to take the emotional upheavals of life in their stride. He feels that in today’s nuclear families children are pampered by their parents more than they used to be earlier. No wonder, they get frustrated easily. "While playing games at home, their parents choose to get defeated by the child. But the same child often loses games at school and is unable to handle failure", says Lal.

Significantly, for every successful suicide there are least four failed ones and many suicides are camouflaged as natural deaths. A large number of suicides committed by the newly-married brides who are physically tortured and psychologically harassed for dowry, are often passed off as natural deaths. In the rugged and mountainous region of Garhwal in the newly constituted state of Uttaranchal, an increasing number of women unable to bear the burden of running their families — in the absence of menfolks who migrate to other parts of the country in search of livelihood — have taken the path of suicide. In the Garhwal region, a woman has to often fetch water, fodder and fuel wood by trudging a distance of up to 5 km. In addition, she is required to till the field, tend the cattle and take care of children and older members of the family.

Another fact brought out by the Voluntary Health Association of India (VHAI) shows that after tuberculosis, suicide is the main killer among women, overtaking malaria and cancer. Severe and at times unbearable depression, physical and mental stress, mostly on account of the family members’ attitude, force women to commit suicide. Suicides have been recorded as the major killer of women in the age group of 15-44 years. Interestingly, till 1984, suicides did not even figure in the top ten causes of female mortality. However, since mid-1980s suicide has become a significant factor in the death of an ever-increasing number of women in the reproductive age group.

Psychiatrists say that women’s mental health problems are overlooked, owing to gender insensitivity and there is no recognition of the fact that women suffer mainly from depression and anxiety on account of poverty, alcoholism of their husbands and waywardness of their offspring.

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