Causes of Suicide in South Asians

suicideWith India having one of the highest suicide rates in the world, the importance of understanding the causes of suicide attempts cannot be understated. If you have lost someone in your life from suicide, you know the heart wrenching devastation from grieving the loss.

The immediate question that comes to mind is why did they do it? Many South Asians mistakenly believe that the person who took his/her own life was selfish and was only thinking about him/herself. In fact, this is rarely, if ever the case.

Also counter to what many South Asians believe, people who survive suicide attempts say that they didn’t want to die but just did not want to live anymore. It’s as if they wanted an escape from themselves and if that was possible without killing themselves they probably would have done whatever it took to get there.

Here are the most common reasons that South Asians children, teens and adults commit suicide:

Shame. South Asian culture teaches people to be accountable to their family and elders. If someone feels as if they will shame their family and that shame becomes too overwhelming, suicide feels like the only option. Sources of shame include anything that falls outside of the “normal” box and expectations that are placed on the individual. These expectations can include achieving a specific type of academic success, choice of career, choice of future life partner, being homosexual, or deviating from religious or cultural practice, etc.

Mistakes. Similar to shame, when an individual makes a mistake that significantly affects others in their life, they feel responsible and that might feel far too overwhelming. Some South Asians who have survived suicide attempts describe this feeling as wanting to remove the stress they cause in their loved ones’ lives. Other mistakes, especially in teenagers, can include playing games where they try to get high by depriving themselves of oxygen and mistakenly allowing the game to go too far.

Depression. South Asians who are depressed are at higher risk of committing suicide. For them, the pain of existing becomes too much to bear and they feel overwhelmed by their suffering. This is especially the case if the depression is undiagnosed and left untreated. The individual might feel like he/she is going crazy or that no one understands what they are going through. This further isolates the person and they might feel that killing themselves is the only option left. If they were educated about depression and given the proper treatment, suicide attempt rates would drop.

Psychosis. South Asians who have diagnosed hallucinations or delusions may hear voices in their heads telling them to kill themselves. They might also mistakenly believe that they can engage in a dangerous act, such as jumping off of a balcony thinking they can fly. Psychosis (a symptom of schizophrenia and sometimes depression or bipolar disorder) does not mean the person is crazy. It is a treatable condition. With early intervention and proper treatment, the person can continue to live a fulfilling life.

Intoxication. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can enhance an already impulsive person’s drive to act before thinking. They may attempt to engage in reckless behavior or try to end their own life. This is especially true for people who abuse substances and use legal and illicit drugs to mask other, deeper problems such as depression, marital issues, stress, etc.

Calling out for attention. This does not mean they want to be coddled or given more attention to boost their ego. They are calling out for attention because talking to friends or family has not worked. Many times South Asians who are living with emotional health issues are brushed off by their loved ones. Because mental health is not well understood in the South Asian community, many people still feel that mental health problems are not real. Thus the person who is suffering receives very little support and understanding, let alone access to treatment. This isolation can drive the person to attempt suicide as a way to call out for help. It is their way of saying, “I’m in real pain. Please help me.” Many times these attempts are not completed and families who are close with the person often get the message that something serious is going on. They then lose their desire to commit suicide. In other situations, the attempt goes too far and they end up dying.

Suicide is very serious and in many situations can be avoided with the proper education and treatment. Suicide attempts can begin as early as the age of 8 with increased risk occurring around adolescence and over the age of 60. With 50% of India’s suicide victims being in their mid 20’s or younger, it is crucial that parents, teachers and other community leaders learn to recognize the signs of suicide and intervene as quickly and successfully as possible.

Click here to learn more about the signs and symptoms of suicide. If you are feeling suicidal, please call your local suicide hotline or dial 911.

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