Lancet Public Health in 2016 made a shocking revelation. Indian females committing suicide accounted for more than 36% global female suicide deaths despite being contributing less than 18% of the global female population.
Suicide is the leading killer of adult women in India aged between 15 and 29 causing 26-33 deaths per 100,000 women. Women in India have emerged more educated and empowered in the 21st century but the report brings out their grim socio-psychological status that is often swept under the rug.
Global Health Data Exchange states India records the highest suicide rates among the young and middle-aged women when compared to countries with similar socio-demographics.
Why Indian females are committing suicide at a higher rate?
Blame it on the patriarchy or socio-cultural framework. The study author of Lancet Public Health met with an interesting finding. The female suicide rate is high in South Indian states that saw more social development whereas traditional north Indian states showed a lower incidence of suicide. Is it the bliss of ignorance that prevents women to take this extreme step?
They can hardly think of a better quality of life. Despite the advancement, there are certain aspects of society where Indian women are not given due recognition and they often encounter barriers to opportunities with respect to men. Experts believe a certain disconnect prevails that triggers suicide in Indian women.
Succumbing to psychological pressures in the male-dominated feudalistic society:
The patriarchal society of India often creates tremendous psychological pressure on their females. The perceived inability to meet the rising expectations of society and family makes Indian females feel less adequate. Out of utter despair, they feel they are not wanted in the family or deserve to live.
This societal and family conflict remains concealed and needs deeper exploration to derive the causes of Indian females committing suicide in large numbers. Genetic factors and hereditary linkage, the long-established reasons for suicide need to be factored in as well.
The girl child – a blessing or burden?
Let us have a look at the mental set up of Indian families for a deeper analysis of Indian females committing suicides. Assigning gender roles is a big factor that shapes the psyche of Indian boys and girls from childhood.
The birth of a girl child in an Indian household though considered as a blessing, parents feel an additional burden of liability and responsibility. A large fraction of Indian parents is hesitant to groom their girl child as an asset who can be a strong pillar of support in the future. Examples of women outshining the male counterparts in every aspect of life are plenty but that didn’t work much to change the age-old mental set up.
Girls in India are groomed to prioritize family (like getting married) over career. Parents cannot think of their daughters remaining unmarried as Indian society is not perceived safe for them. The fear is not unwarranted according to the staggering number of reported crimes perpetrated against women.
The girl has to battle a number of societal issues to make her ground. Mental issues are likely to crop up in the absence of proper support. This is more prevalent in modern educated women who have to fight a tougher battle as her educated mind and vision would always push her against the age-old norms and beliefs. Therefore, the rising number of females committing suicide in India is not unlikely.
Depression and increased risk of suicides:
A link exists between the societal culture and depression related suicides. Few studies have highlighted this fact. Long-standing beliefs, myths, superstitions, religion and cultural practices contribute a lot to suicide. Indian females committing suicide can be largely attributed to patriarchy and the attitude of males.
If we consider the socio-economic perspective, the burden of depression is 50% higher in females than in males according to the WHO, and Indian women are more depressed. They remain in the depression for 31.9 years in their lifetime which is much higher than China and the US where women remain depressed for 18.8 years and 22.7 years respectively.
Sowing the seeds of mental issues and depression:
1. Imposition from childhood:
Girls should look beautiful and stay in a good shape. They should learn proper manners and gestures. This is not mandatory for boys. Such impositions impact their self-esteem, personality and mental setup. Incidences of suicides owing to body-image issues are prevalent worldwide perhaps more in India.
2. Unreported sexual abuse:
Sexual abuse from anybody can be devastating enough giving rise to mental problems. If this comes from a family member, things get worse. Girls are mostly caged and cannot report this to anybody fearing disrespect and shame. This is one of the prime reasons behind Indian females committing suicide.
3. Victims of domestic violence:
Official numbers released by the National Family Health Survey in 2016 reports that nearly 30% of married women aged between 15-49 years suffered from domestic violence. Mental disorders arising from this may include anxiety disorders, clinical depression, psychosis and PTSD. Emotional abuse is an integral part of domestic violence that is never taken seriously in the Indian context. Emotional abuse can be more harmful than physical violence.
4. Institutionalization of marriage:
An Indian girl has to give up most of her rights after marriage as she is supposed to leave her parental home and start residing with her husband’s family. She is thrust with a plethora of responsibilities and conditions notwithstanding her adjusting capability. Depression and mental problems are natural which can be linked with rising suicide incidences.
5. The pressure of motherhood:
It may sound absurd to associate motherhood with suicidal incidences of Indian females. After all, motherhood is supposed to be the most enjoyable part of a woman’s life. Enforced motherhood coupled with lack of adequate support during pre and post-natal conditions have a grievous impact on women’s mental health.
She is always at the receiving end of a stream of advices flowing in from different sources with zero assurance of support. The stress heightens when the new mother contemplates of resuming work post maternity. She faces discriminatory remarks for prioritizing career/job before the baby.
6. Ageism in middle-aged women:
Middle-aged women joining work after a break is not welcomed. This adds to the depression where women feel deprived of opportunities. Discriminatory remarks from co-workers add to the mental woes. She has to prove herself more than others for her age.
7. Sexual harassment in the workplace:
Modern-day educated Indian womenfolk have stepped outdoors to support their family. Women already battling some sort of mental ailments have to encounter a different battle in their workplace. The constant gaze from male coworkers and their unapologetic sexist remarks can be too difficult to digest in small confines of the office.
The Mental Health Care Act passed in April’17 may have brought certain dramatic changes like decriminalization of suicide and improved access to discrimination-free healthcare. This indicates that the government is taking female mental health concerns seriously. But unless there is a change in the male-centrism attitude, can such laws be effective?