Suicides data from the NCRB’s ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’ report indicates that the number of suicides in India has been increasing since 2017 after a decline. Between 2017 & 2021, the number of suicides increased by over 26% with few states & cities contributing disproportionately to this number.
Suicide is a highly sensitive and complex phenomenon. Understanding its roots has always been inconsistent throughout the history. Conventional beliefs characterize suicide as a choice of free-willed individuals acting in personal despair. However, social scientists argue that a large systemic forces stronger than the individuals exist behind the suicides. It is also believed that suicides tend to produce chain-reaction effect, i.e., a greater number of individuals at a given time and in a given geography committing suicides could produce more suicides.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than seven lakh people die from suicide every year globally. It is one of the leading causes of death among teenagers, and three-fourths of the suicides globally occur in middle- and low-income nations. Every one in hundred deaths is by suicide across the world. For every individual committing suicide, almost 10-20 times more people attempt suicide. These statistics point out the glaring invisibility of the suicide, which is often perceived as a private concern.
Having a thorough and reliable database of suicides is highly essential, as it enables us to understand the underlying causes that push people towards suicide & its spread. In India, the “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India”, hereafter referred to as ‘ADSI’ is such a comprehensive data source published as an annual report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In today’s story, we look at some of the key statistics relating to suicides and its trends in India.
The increasing trend in Suicides from 2017
Data indicates that the number of suicides in India has declined from 2011 to 2016. It was 1.36 Lakh in 2011, which fell to 1.31 Lakh in 2016. The rate of suicides, defined as the number of suicides per lakh population, had also come down from 11.2 in 2011 to 9.9 in 2017. However, since 2017, both the number of suicides and the rate of suicides have been increasing. Incidentally, it is the same year when ‘The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017’ was adopted. This increase is higher in the years 2020 and 2021, giving an impression of COVID-19 induced suicides. The rate of suicides increased from 10.4 in 2019 to 11.3 in 2020, which further increased to 12 in 2021. Further, if we look at the decadal growth, there is an approximate increase of 21% in the incidence of suicides, while the rate of suicides grew by 7%.
Five states account for half of the suicides in India
As stated earlier, many systemic factors also play a role in the incidences of suicides. The role of geographical location, the legislations, and the governance process, become crucial in terms of access to better mental health care, restricting access to lethal means of death, and understanding the interpersonal relationships and sense of community building.
Suicides in India are not uniform across these factors. Five states account for approximately half of the total suicides in India. These five states have consistently been contributing significantly to the suicide burden in India. Even among these five states, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu account for half of the share of five states. Other states like Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka together account for another 25% of the suicides in India.
Among the metropolitan cities, Delhi, and Chennai account for one-fifth of the total suicides occurring in Indian cities. They are followed by Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Surat, which together add up to another one-fifth of the suicides in Indian cities.
Non-uniformity of Suicide trend across states
As observed earlier, there is no uniformity in suicide incidences across the states. To understand the trend further, we look at the change in the number of suicides over the years. For simplification, this change is considered in percentages. Accordingly, nine states are mapped with their corresponding percentage change over previous years (from 2017 to 2021). Upon mapping, it is found that, for states like Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and West Bengal, there has been a positive change in the majority of the years, essentially pointing out that these states have constantly seen an increasing number of suicides over these years, irrespective of the value of such an increase. For states like Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, in the initial years, the suicide incidence decreased, while in recent years, these states have also recorded positive change.
Suicide incidences in males are greater than in females
Gender and suicide are intrinsically related. It is well documented by researchers across the world that men are more likely to commit suicide than women. Some of the common reasons attributed to such a strange phenomenon are the lack of willingness of males to seek help for mental health, usage of addictive substances as a form of ‘self-medication’, economic reasons, and similar others.
India is no different in terms of the gendered nature of suicide incidences. Both genders registered a steady increase in the number of suicides from 2016 to 2021. However, this increase is not the same across these genders. Suicides in males increased from 88,997 in 2016 to 1,18,979 in 2021, marking an increase of nearly 33%. Similarly, suicides in females rose from 41,997 in 2016 to 45,026 in 2021, registering an increase of approximately 7%. Transgender suicides also rose from 14 in 2016 to 28 in 2022. Such an uneven increase in the incidences of suicides across genders calls for targeted interventions.
Few professions see increase in share in total suicides
Economic reasons are one of the most important causes of suicidal tendencies. The type of employment, the social status attached to it, the demands of working places, and other similar factors contribute to the incidence of suicides. Accordingly, not all professions are equally vulnerable to suicide. Some categories such as daily-wage earners, students, and unemployed persons are more vulnerable to committing suicide.
The data from 2016 to 2021 point to a declining share in total suicides committed by housewives, and the persons engaged in the farming sector – both cultivators, and agricultural labourers. However, the share of suicides by daily wage-earners, professionals/salaried persons, and unemployed persons is showing an increasing trend. In these increasing categories, one can observe a sudden spike in the years 2017, and 2020, when demonetization and COVID-19 happened.
Marital status and Suicide incidence
There exists a strong correlation between suicides and interpersonal relationships, particularly marriage. The better the interpersonal relationships, the lesser the tendency to commit any act of self-destruction. If we look at the data on suicides from 2016 to 2021 by marital status, some peculiar trends emerge. First, in the unmarried category, the share of men who commit suicide is higher than that of women. Similar is the case with the married category. However, the share of men in the married category is higher than the share of men in the unmarried category. The vice-versa is true for women.
In the widowed/widower category, both genders almost have a similar share in the total suicides under this category. Further, divorcee men are more likely to commit suicide than divorced females. Similarly, separated men commit more suicide than separated women.
Suicides due to Substance abuse and Love affairs on a rise
Suicide is a complex phenomenon whose underlying roots are difficult to comprehend. Though there might be several reasons behind the commission of such acts, one or two reasons dominate over the others. If we look at the data on the causes behind the suicides from 2016 to 2021, the share of suicides due to family problems, love affairs, and substance abuse has been rising. This points out to the diminishing interpersonal relationships, and sense of solidarity among the individuals as well as the households.
Overall, the data indicates a general increase in suicides in the last five years. The study of suicides is of utmost importance, and it is high time that it should move away from an excessive focus on individuals, and focus on structural factors like poverty, inequality, mental health issues, etc., to understand the vulnerability of the people. And strategies for suicide prevention must extend beyond the formal organizational approaches to reach the vulnerable.