Suicides in India: What data shows?IOCR


Mains Paper 1: Social Issues | Population and associated issues

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Global Burden of Disease Study, Stats mentioned

Mains level: The problem of suicides and its effects on society as well as the demographic dividend of India



  • The nation accounts for over a third of the world’s annual female suicides and nearly a fourth of male suicides, a significant rise in global share from 1990.

About the research

  1. This outcome is based on the study conducted by Public Health Foundation of India, which was published in the Lancet Public Health Journal.
  2. It studied multiple sources, including official sample registration and vital registration surveys, medically certified causes of death, and verbal autopsy studies.
  3. The research was part of the 2016 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors (GBD 2016), a worldwide database of health indicators.

India accounts for a growing share

  1. The suicide rates for men and women in India were much higher than the global averages.
  2. Drinking alcohol was associated with the risk of suicide in men.
  3. Being widowed, divorced or separated was associated with a slightly decreased risk of suicide in women.
  4. Violence against women is an important determinant of suicide, research suggests.

The big bad female suicide problem

  1. Across the world, men commit suicide at a higher rate than women, and India is no different.
  2. India has the sixth highest female suicide death rate in the world.
  3. If Indian states were countries, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and West Bengal would have the third, fourth and fifth worst rates of female suicide in the world (only Greenland and Lesotho are worse).
  4. The three Indian states with the highest age-standardized suicide rates among men— Tripura, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu—would be the 11th, 17th and 20th highest in the world if they were countries.
  5. In all, there are 45 countries with higher male suicide death rates than India.

Regional skew

  1. India’s southern states are more developed, but also more suicide-prone.
  2. This follows a global pattern, with more developed states having higher suicide rates.
  3. However, in the medical literature, instead of “more developed” and “less developed” countries or states are classed by their stage in the “epidemiological transition”.
  4. It is moving from high rates of fertility to lower rates as incomes grow, health improves and women become educated.
  5. Among lower fertility states, Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal, and among higher fertility states Uttarakhand had significant declines in suicide rates for women from 1990 to 2016.

A youth suicide crisis

  1. Young people in India die predominantly of suicide, the GBD data shows.
  2. For both sexes in India, suicide was the leading cause of death among those aged 15-39 in 2016, while globally it was the third most common cause of death for this age group.
  3. There is another significant difference between suicides among men and women in India.
  4. The highest age-specific rates of suicide for men were among elderly men aged 75 years or older, while among women it was for young women aged 15-29.

Problem of Under-reporting

  1. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, there were 130,000 suicides in India, according to the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report brought out by the NCRB.
  2. That’s 100,000 fewer suicides than estimates, or a decrease of 77%.

Way Forward

  1. The decriminalization of suicide in 2017 is expected to have a major role in access to mental health treatment and possible reduction in under-reporting and stigma associated with suicide.
  2. The first step in addressing India’s suicide crisis would be to record suicide deaths accurately, and acknowledge the gravity of the crisis.

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