Women in Gujarat are calling help. Are you listening?
By Brendan Dabhi, Ahmedabad Mirror | Sep 13, 2018, 02.00 AM IST
2.6 % RISE IN SUICIDE DEATH RATE AMONG WOMEN IN STATE
80 % CALLS TO SUICIDE HELPLINE MADE BY WOMEN EVERY DAY
25 % GO MISSING FROM HOUSES DUE TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
One in every three women who commit suicide in the world is an Indian. And, this statistic should ring alarm bells for Gujarat as women in the State are at a greater risk of committing suicide. A study published in The Lancet Public Health journal on Wednesday stated that India accounts for about 18 per cent of the world population, but nearly 37 per cent of women who commit suicide around the world are Indians.
The news is worse for Gujarat as a Lancet report titled ‘Gender differentials and state variations in suicide deaths in India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2016’ states that suicide death rate (SDR) in women from Gujarat rose from 15.1 to 15.4 per lakh population (age standardised). This is a rise of 2.4 per cent over 26 years, from 1990 to 2016.
The figure does not look like much till one realises that the SDR has gone down in 26 states. Only Gujarat, Rajasthan (1.6%) and Bihar (17.1%) has reported a rise.
Mental health experts, psychiatrists, suicide prevention officials, the police and women’s rights activists have drawn a direct parallel between helplessness that women face due to domestic abuse and mental illness to rise in suicides. There is urgent need for a suicide prevention strategy that is data-driven, gender-specific and takes state variations into account.
The long road ahead
On one hand, personal and societal pressures on people have risen and the resilience to deal with them has decreased. On the other hand, we neither have the system nor the will to set up a system for mental health and education. Public sector, private stakeholders and NGOs need to get together to set up a mental health system in the State. Money needs to be put on research on reasons for suicides and how they can be averted. When the family planning programme began in the 1960s, it was a taboo issue. Awareness was generated for 30 to 40 years where hierarchy of block- to state-level offi cers were put in place to educate people. This was repeated with HIV/AIDs awareness in the 1980s. The topic of mental health is just as taboo. We need a concentrated plan to tackle these issues.
– Dr Dileep Mavalankar, Director, IIPH-G
1. DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
More than 80% of calls received by Jeevan Aastha suicide helpline are from women attempting suicide or contemplating it. On an average, it gets 75 calls daily. Of these, 60 are from women. What’s more, 15% of calls are from women suff ering from domestic abuse. Of 177 missing women rescued by 181 Abhyam Women’s Helpline in past three and a half years, 44 had run away from home due to domestic violence. This is almost 25% of the total missing women complaints. “Most suicides by women are due to family reasons. Sexual violence against women is on the rise, too. Many cases of suicide are following abetment,” said Sophia Khan, head of NGO SAFAR that works in fi eld of violence against women.
It is unfortunate but women in India are socially conditioned to take abuse, both physical and mental. Women who have been bearing violence for long are less likely to commit suicide but those who cannot take the hit to dignity are most likely to do so.
Gujarat and Rajasthan are male dominated; women education and health awareness is very limited. Women are not able to deal with anxiety and depression and especially those stemming from ego clashes between men and working women. So there are high divorce cases too among young females.
2. ABANDONING ELDERLY
The Lancet study found that suicide death rate is increasing in the elderly, especially among those above the age of 80 years. Agreeing that the trend is on the rise, Narendra Gohil, project director of 181 Abhayam helpline, recollected, “Unwilling to take care of his aged ailing mother, a resident of Surendranagar tried to get her admitted to old age homes. When some of them refused to take her in, he took her to the railway station and abandoned her there. We found her and brought her to a rescue shelter in Ahmedabad where she is being provided for.” The helpline has noted a rise in trend of children abandoning their aged parents.
For the elderly, social isolation, depression, functional disability, and the feeling of being a burden on their family have been cited as reasons for suicides globally, however, not much is known about reasons for suicides in the elderly in India, the report states.
Senior citizens, especially those who are abandoned by their family or are ill-treated, tend to develop suicidal tendencies. We had a retired army major who kept crying for days because his sons threw him out of the house. In another case, a woman, who son used to drink a lot, used to lock her in the bathroom. She kept saying that she wanted to die.
3. MENTAL ILLNESS
Manisha Solanki (41) was found sitting on the railway track a week before her son was about to get married. When 181 Abhayam counsellors and the GRP took her home, her family tried to shrug off the incident claiming she was “forgetful and walked out of her home in Odhav”. Her family revealed that this was the second time she had walked out of the house without saying anything to anyone.
“There is a severe lack of awareness about mental illness. Also, due to various taboos regarding mental health in Gujarat, people rarely seek treatment. This is especially true if the woman of the house has mental health issues,” said a counsellor.
“We have 290 patients at the hospital and of those, 200 are men. So, there are double the men than women who come for treatment. Even in our OPD, 60% are male patients. Women are constantly aff ected by depression and due to taboos and lack of awareness, women are not treated,” said Dr Ajay Chauhan, Superintendent of Government Mental Hospital.
Less than half of women suffering from mental health problem, reach a psychiatrist. Depression and anxiety can be treated but the gap needs to be bridged. However, due to the taboo, women have to come to the hospital alone as family members ask them to stop pretending to be sick and be strong.”