India witnessed a 67.7 percent increase in media reports of suicidal behaviour during the COVID-19-prompted lockdown.
An analysis published in The International Journal of Mental Health Systems of media reports during the period from March 24th to May 3rd this year showed 369 reports compared to 220 reports in the corresponding timeframe the previous year. The reports analysed were grouped into different categories as follows
“To distinguish between cases that were reported as a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, the researchers…classified news reports in 2020 into three categories—‘COVID-19 related’ (if the reports mentioned fear of having COVID, fear of lockdown or were quarantined as a cause for suicide or attempted suicide), other COVID-19 issues were alcohol related (due to unavailability of alcohol during lockdown), police humiliation/brutality and social discrimination, ‘Non-COVID-19 related’ (for reports where this was not mentioned as a cause) and ‘Reasons yet to be ascertained’ for instances where no information was available, the cause was unclear, other triggers were not mentioned or if the case was still under investigation.”
The findings of the study found that suicidal behaviour was observed in more men than women, those between the ages of 31 and fifty, individuals who are married, and individuals who are employed.
Suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a major cause of concern. In late-July, The Times of India reported “a spike in self-harm, suicidal ideation amid COVID pandemic.” The report cited a study by the Bengaluru-based Suicide Prevention India Foundation (SPIF), outlined that “the rates of relapse among people who had recovered from a mental health condition has risen and due to the spike in need for their services, mental health professionals are also experiencing caregiver fatigue…across the country, mental health experts are having to deal with an increasing number of people, particularly youths, showing suicidal tendencies triggered by a sense of uncertainty brought about the pandemic.”
As a national public health concern, suicidal behaviour is a long-standing one for India. As previously noted by Health Issues India, “2.2 lakh lives are lost to suicide in India every year, a rate of 16.3 deaths per 100,000 people and representing approximately a quarter of total lives lost to suicide worldwide. India’s is also the highest suicide rate in southeast Asia.”
The International Journal of Mental Health Systems study notes “before the pandemic, in 2016, it is estimated that India with only 17.8 percent of global population accounted for 36·6 percent and 24.3 percent of the global suicide deaths in women and men, respectively.” However, the figure is likely to be higher.
“National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB)…data has been shown to significantly underestimate suicide rates due to under-reporting of cases and this data is usually made available after a significant delay of between twelve and 24 months,” the report states. “Furthermore, NCRB releases summary annual data rather than weekly or monthly data to analyse trends and NCRB does not keep any record of attempted suicides.”
The researchers write that their findings could be attributed to an “increase in online news media reports of suicides and attempts during COVID-19 lockdown may indicate an increase in journalists’ awareness about suicide or more sensational media reporting or may be a proxy indicator of a real community increase in suicidal behaviour.” They conclude by asserting that “it is…imperative that the Government of India examines the NCRB data on suicides during this period and also release this data to researchers for further examination.
“If our findings are confirmed by the community data collected by NCRB, governments in India (both federal and state governments) need to prioritise addressing the economic fall-out of COVID pandemic to also address suicide prevention…vulnerable groups like migrant workers, elderly and youth need to be assessed for suicide risk and provided with adequate psychosocial support. The COVID pandemic also provides us with an opportunity for cross-sectoral collaboration for suicide prevention rather than restricting suicide prevention to the health sector.
“Analysis of news media reports of suicides and attempted suicides during the COVID-19 lockdown in India” is available here.
Contact details for mental health support in India can be accessed here.
If you are suicidal or experiencing suicidal thoughts, visit your nearest hospital or contact AASRA on 91-22-27546669 or Sneha India on 91 44 24640050 helpline. A list of other suicide helplines can be accessed here.