What is Bangladesh doing to reduce the risk of suicide?

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World Suicide Prevention Day : Five years ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) made tremendous strides by recognizing suicide as one of the most severe threats to public health.

The 2014 report, titled “Preventing suicide’s: A global imperative,” said Bangladesh recorded nearly eight suicide’s for every 100,000 people. Despite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s instructions to set up an institute dedicated to studying suicides, very little has been accomplished. The government is yet to observe World Suicide Prevention Day.

Dr Helal Uddin Ahmed with the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital (NIMH) said no government bodies comprehensively track suicides in Bangladesh.

The only available data on suicides comes from the police.

A Bangladesh Police spokesperson said suicides are recorded as unnatural deaths, and attempted suicides are seldom recorded.

Joysree Zaman, convener of anti-suicides campaign, Brighter Bangladesh.

said it was very unfortunate that suicide’s had not been recognized as a public health concern yet.

Joysree said despite passing an act addressing mental health, the country has done nothing worthwhile to follow up.

“Without proper data, how can you understand the mental state in your country, where to prioritize and how to formulate policies?”

32 individuals committed suicide every day in 2019

Police records show that the number of suicides has increased over the years. The police said, around 6,753 people have committed suicide from January to July this year. This means, every day some 32 people committed suicide.

The Bangladesh Police could not provide the suicide data for 2018.

but stated that 19,094 unnatural deaths occured in the year, around 11,000 were possibly deaths by suicide. Several psychiatrists who were consulted for this report concurred.

According to their statistics, on average around 30 people died by suicide every day in 2017.

Yet, experts believe the numbers are only a fraction of the reality.

Joysree said in rural areas, deaths by suicide are often covered up by families who do not want any further attention.

Suicides remain a cause of stigma, and lack of vigilance, and public awareness is only sustaining the negative perception.

The WHO said, around 20% of global suicides are committed by ingesting pesticides, mostly in rural agricultural areas in low, and middle-income countries.

The scale of suicides is not growing, Dr Helal said, explaining that instead the dimensions of identifying suicides has only grown.

“Statistically, the number of casualties are rising because people are becoming more and more aware, and fewer deaths by suicide are going unreported.”

Children at risk

In 2019, the numbers appear to be somewhat lower, with 148 deaths of children attributed to suicide, and 10 unsuccessful attempts.

Between 2014 and 2019, at least 19 students from public universities died by suicide. Seven of the deaths took place in 2019 alone.

Mostafa Sohel Ahmed, executive director of Bangladesh Society for the Enforcement of Human Rights (BSEHR), said impulsiveness, hopelessness, drug abuse, and childhood trauma are the leading causes of suicide attempts in the country.

Zia Rahman, chairman of the department of criminology at Dhaka University, said the society is currently changing, and parents are unable to cope with the changes, affecting parent-child relationships.

Dr Helal said the changing dimensions of suicide have mostly affected children, and adolescents.

“For some unknown reason, the parents and teachers are unable to make our children tolerate and create a nature of acceptance. We need to foster these values in them. Otherwise, we have to face dire consequences in the times ahead.”

What is being done

In lieu of public facilities, private NGOs like Kaan Pete Roi are the only active platform to help people in need.

WHO Bangladesh is working to develop mental health, and suicide prevention material as part of a training package for school staff, according to Catalin Bercaru, a spokesperson for the organization.

The WHO, the NIMH, the Directorate General of Health Services, and various stakeholders are also collaborating to train primary healthcare service providers, based on WHO mhGAP.

What can be done

  • Government to identify suicide as public health issue
  • Dedicated government unit to study, and monitor suicide trends
  • Set up suicide hotlines
  • Address mental illness more vigorously
  • Schools and healthcare workers trained to identify signs, and help cope
  • Provide follow-up care to those who attempted to commit suicide

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