Mental health-related issues have worsened in India with the COVID-19 pandemic with a pronounced rise in suicides, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders. When focusing on suicides, data suggests that India reports the highest number of suicides in the world, with suicide being a leading cause of death in younger age groups. Suicide attempts are much higher in number than the reported suicides. These numbers have increased with the pandemic and its associated lockdowns. National Crime Records Bureau data shows a 10 percent increase in the number of suicides in 2020.
The Lancet Psychiatry, ETI and SNEHA came together for a policymaker’s roundtable on mental health and suicide prevention.
The roundtable was organised post the release of The Lancet Psychiatry’s publication by Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar’s (Founder, SNEHA) and co-authors’ paper ‘National Suicide Prevention Strategy for India: Contexts and Considerations for Urgent Action’. The report was release 07:00 recently by The Lancet Psychiatry.
There are significant policy implications emerging out of the paper that discusses the challenges of suicide in the country and highlights an action plan to address this effectively at the national level. These include a ban on highly hazardous pesticides and reduction of access and availability of these pesticides, which are one of the leading causes of suicides in India; repealing section 309, which criminalizes attempted suicide, thus reducing stigma and improving access to immediate treatment; ensuring sensitized media reporting of suicides; providing supplementary examinations to students who have failed in their board examinations. The roundtable brought together policymakers and technical experts to discuss these research findings and recommend a way forward for impactful policy decisions to be formulated and implemented.
Dr Dalbir Singh, President, Policymaker’s Forum for Mental Health, stated that “India has the largest burden of mental health and suicide in the world which adversely impact the well-being of our nation besides our productivity and economic health. This Round Table has provided an opportunity for an interaction between the policymakers and other stakeholders to evolve perspectives on policy interventions, awareness, Role of Society, Stigma and identification of other factors to formulate an effective Action Plan. I also take this opportunity to launch the Policymakers Forum for Mental Health formally.”
Dr Virander Singh Chauhan, Emeritus Professor and Founder, ETI, mentioned: “As someone who has spent more than 50 years in higher education at different levels, I have observed that increasingly more and more young people struggle with mental health-related problems. Hectic lifestyle, fear of failure, and reduced human contacts due to digital and virtual living have all impacted the lives of young people, many of whom are driven to despair. The solution to these problems has to be formed urgently not only for the welfare of the young but of the society at large. ETI is focused on mental health-related issues, particularly among the young people and hopes to create awareness through research, data collection, and advocacy.”
Dr Joan Marsh, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet Psychiatry, said, “We are very proud to partner with our authors. While suicide is a challenge for everyone, young people and women are particularly vulnerable to suicide. Lancet Psychiatry is supportive of policy papers which leads to improved mental health.”
Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, Founder, SNEHA, presented the research findings from the paper and suggested, “In spite of the magnitude of the problem of suicide in India, it has not been addressed effectively. There is an urgent need to develop and implement a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which is inter-sectoral and collaborative. The policy decisions recommended in the paper would be the first step towards saving lives in India.”
Post this; there was a discussion among the policymakers on the suggestions put forth in the paper, moderated by Dr Dalbir Singh. To conclude the session, Shireen Yachu, Research Analyst, ETI, gave a vote of thanks.