Pressures push individual to the brink

Over a hundred studies profiling suicide patients have revealed that there is in fact no typical description of a suicidal person, writes Cooshalle Samuel.

india Updated: Oct 16, 2006 01:26 IST

A 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) report notes that worldwide suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent over the last half a century. Not surprisingly then countries are addressing suicide as a growing public health concern and encouraging both scientific and sociological research on the subject.

Over a hundred such studies profiling suicide patients have revealed that there is in fact no typical description of a suicidal person. Health problems, stressful working and living conditions apart, certain other new age pressures such as peer pressure, increasing expectations, weak support systems, break up of joint families, and the collapse of the traditional agricultural and industrial sectors, are all increasingly pushing people to take their own lives.

Mental disorders & addiction

Research has proved that mental disorders such as general and manic depression, schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder are found to be associated with more than 90 per cent of all suicide cases.

When these behaviour disorders are mixed with drugs and alcohol, they increase the risk of suicidal behaviour. A 5-year study of suicide attempters admitted to Philadelphia General Hospital revealed that 40 per cent of people who committed suicide had a history of alcohol abuse and 19 per cent had misused both alcohol and drugs.

Work and financial stress

Work related stress has also been increasingly claiming lives. A 2006 WHO study on mental health in the workplace shows that in a company of 1000 workers at least 200-300 will suffer from serious mental health problem in any given year, and 1 worker will commit suicide every 10 years. Also for every 1 worker that commits suicide another 10-20 will make an attempt.

This work related stress has been found to stem from financial difficulties such as debt loads, long-term poverty or huge lump-sum losses. For example, in 1999 Japan's worst recession in 50 years was linked to the country's highest ever suicide rate - notably among middle-aged men who faced salary cuts and layoffs.

New research

While traditional sociologists such as Durkheim and Laplace viewed suicide as a social ill reflecting widespread alienation, isolation, new studies have explored links of suicide with gender development, sexual orientation, sexual coercion, education opportunities and the cultural acceptability of suicide.

Alcohol consumption (for example, in the Baltic States and Russia) and easy access to some toxic substances (in China and India ) and to firearms (in El Salvador and the United States) also seem to be positively correlated with suicide rates across countries.

Coupled with the existing stress at work and home, modern influences such as the internet and consumer boom have introduced new types and methods of committing suicide. For example, on an average, one suicide pact (or group suicide) occurs every month in Japan wherein teenagers and adults addicted to the Internet make pacts with strangers equally interested in killing themselves.

Another example is that of increasing suicide rates among soldiers. A 2003 US Army report noted that the suicide rate in Iraq and Kuwait that year was 17.3 soldiers per every 100,000, which was higher than the suicide rate for US military personnel in Vietnam.

As the next story goes to show another section that have proved to be vulnerable are the heavily indebted farmers in India’s rural hinterland.

First Published: Oct 16, 2006 01:26 IST