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Data: Suicides increased by 10% in 2020, most due to Family Problems & Illnesses

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An increase in mental health issues, illnesses were all a fall out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact of these issues is visible in the numbers as well. Suicides reported in India increased by over 10% in 2020 and crossed 1.5 lakh. More than 50% of these are attributed to Family Problems & Illnesses.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recently released the annual ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides India’ (ADSI) report for the calendar year 2020. The report is the official source of comprehensive data related to accidents and suicides in the country. The report helps in understanding the causative factors of accidents and suicides that can be used for policy formulation among other things.  This story focuses on the trend in suicides in the past decade along with the analysis of causes.

Suicides increased by about 10% in 2020 & Men constitute 71% of the victims

The ADSI-2020 revealed that between January and December 2020, a total of 1,53,052 suicides were reported in India which translates to an average of 418 suicides per day or about an average of 17 suicides every hour. This is the first time that the number of suicides in the country crossed the 1.5 lakh mark. Compared to the year 2019, the number of suicides increased by 10% in 2020, and ever since NCRB began publishing the ADSI reports in 1967, the number of suicides reported in 2020 is the greatest. The number of suicides reported in 2020 is about 4 times the number reported in 1967 (38,829). Between 2011 & 2019, the number of suicides hovered between 1.3 lakh and 1.4 lakh a year. While there was a decrease in the number of suicides between 2011 and 2017, the number started increasing from 2018 and reached 1.53 lakh in 2020. 

The rate of suicides, normalized with the population also shows a similar trend. (Rate of suicides is calculated using projected population for the non-census years whereas, for the census year 2011, the population in the Census 2011 report was used.) The rate of suicides dropped from 11.2 per lakh in 2011 and 2012 to 9.9 in 2017 and has touched the highest rate of 11.3 per lakh in 2020. In line with the increase in the number of suicides between 2019 & 2020, the rate of suicides increased by 8.7% during this period. 

Also, in 2020, the number of male victims out of the reported suicides crossed 1 lakh for the first time. Men constituted almost 71% of the suicide victims reported in 2020. Over the years, the share of men in the number of reported suicides increased gradually- from over 58% in 1967 to 71% in 2020. 

Five states account for more than 50% of suicides reported in the country

The greatest number of suicides in 2020 was reported in the state of Maharashtra where 19,909 suicides were reported, followed by Tamil Nadu with 16,883 suicides. Along with Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka, the five states together accounted for 50% of the suicides reported in the country in 2020. Except for Madhya Pradesh, the remaining four states have reported more than 10,000 suicides each year since 2011 and Madhya Pradesh has been doing so since 2015. The remaining close to 50% of suicides were reported from the rest of the 23 States and 8 UTs.

Maharashtra has been reporting the most suicides followed by Tamil Nadu since 2013

While Tamil Nadu reported the most suicides in 2011 and 2012, followed by Maharashtra, its place was taken over by Maharashtra starting 2013. Since 2013, Maharashtra has been reporting the most suicides with Tamil Nadu reporting the second highest. 

The 10-year trend in both these states has been quite different. In the case of Maharashtra, the number of suicides has increased consistently from 15,947 in 2011 to 19,909 in 2020- an increase of 25%. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu’s numbers fell from 15,963 in 2011 to 13,493 in 2019- a drop by 15%. However, in 2020, Tamil Nadu witnessed a sudden 20% increase in the number of suicides with the number crossing 16,000. 

Multiple states reported a significant increase in the number of suicides in 2020 compared to 2019. Uttarakhand (82.8%), Mizoram (54.3%), Himachal Pradesh (46.7%), and Arunachal Pradesh (42.9%) which reported less than 1000 suicides each, along with Jharkhand (30.5%) and Assam (36.8%) have all reported a significant increase. 

MP, Gujarat, Punjab, and Delhi reported a continuous increase in suicides in the last ten years

A total of 17 states and Delhi reported more than 2000 suicides each in 2020, accounting for 96% of all the suicides in the country. Except for Kerala, UP, and Haryana, the remaining states witnessed an increase in suicides in 2020 as compared to 2019. Along with Maharashtra, the states of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Delhi have also reported a continuous increase in suicides in the last ten years. 

The sudden spike in suicides in 2020 in the state of Tamil Nadu is due to illnesses. In 2020, a total of 4423 suicides were reported as due to illnesses, an increase of 77% compared to 2019 when only 2501 suicides were reported with this cause. 

The share of suicides due to illnesses has increased from 17.1% to 18% at an All-India level. In terms of absolute numbers, suicides due to illnesses increased by 16% in 2020.  Within the head of illnesses, suicides due to mental illness increased by 25.3% to reach 13,796 in 2020 from 11,009 in 2019. This could be because of the uncertainty and stress induced by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Illnesses and Family Problems cause more than half the Suicides

Illnesses and Family Problems are the two most common causes of suicides in the country accounting for 51.6% of the suicides in 2020. More than 50,000 suicides were reported as due to Family Problems in 2020. The number of suicides due to family problems increased by over 50% since 2011 while the share of suicides due to family problems has gone up from 24% in 2011 to 33.6% in 2020. 

Since 2014, the suicides reported as due to drug abuse and addiction have increased 2.5 times, those due to love affairs increased 1.6 times, and suicides due to bankruptcy/indebtedness increased 1.9 times. Suicides due to unemployment also increased consistently since 2016. The suicides due to bankruptcy/indebtedness, failure in examination, and property disputes reduced in 2020 as compared to 2019 by 12%, 24%, and 10%, respectively.  The stark decrease in suicides due to failure in examinations could be because of the cancellation of most board exams in 2020. 

Suicide Mortality is an indicator under SDGs

It must be noted that the data reported in the ADSI report is based on the FIRs filed which states the apparent cause of death based on evidence collected and autopsy reports. Under-reporting suicides and the possibility of misclassification of suicide deaths cannot be ruled out, especially in cases where families wish to hide the suicide of a person. However, the data from the ADSI is important as it provides trends & enumerates causes for relevant policy action. 

The suicide rate is an indicator under Sustainable Development Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. The goal is to bring down premature mortality of non-communicable diseases by one-third, through prevention & treatment and promotion of mental health and well-being. This includes mortality attributed to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes or chronic respiratory disease and suicide. 

Deaths due to Suicides are preventable as timely intervention can help save lives. Providing adequate mental health support and more than anything, encouraging people to seek support for mental health issues, especially during this time of pandemic can go a long way in reducing suicide mortality. Studies have shown that the pandemic has resulted in increased cases of suicide and self-harm. 

Featured Image: Suicides reported in India

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