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Spate of farmers' suicides in India worrying WHO

Ramya Kannan

Addressing components of social stress can prevent these, says Beneditto Saraceno


  • Psychiatric care, counselling to identify and treat depression vital
  • Need to reduce access to usual methods of suicide stressed

    CHENNAI: The World Health Organisation's mental health division is concerned about farmers' suicides in India, its director Beneditto Saraceno has said.

    While India does not figure in the list of 10 countries that have the maximum number of suicides, no consolation can be derived from it because the high rate of suicide in India and China was worrisome, Dr. Saraceno, who was in Chennai to attend the recent International Conference on Schizophrenia 2006 organised by the Schizophrenia Research Organisation, said.

    He said farmers' suicides across the country were a complex issue. Undiagnosed and untreated depression, along with catastrophic social circumstances and easy access to methods of suicide, formed a heady cocktail leading to a spate of suicides. The components of social distress must be addressed in an effort to prevent these suicides. It was also important to tackle other aspects simultaneously, Dr. Saraceno stressed. "Sometimes, the best intervention is non-psychiatric."

    "The majority of suicides are impulsive and the presence and availability of a method of suicide is crucial." He reasoned that most people did not intend to die when they attempted suicide. They were out to prove a point. But, if the tools were available, and potent, then death was the result.

    The WHO was working on putting on the agenda of the Indian Government the need to reduce access to the usual methods of suicide, Dr. Saraceno said. Some methods adopted worldwide that seemed to have worked included making it difficult to open bottles of pesticide and reducing the toxicity.

    "These may seem trivial, but they are important measures that will work to reduce the number of suicides."

    Psychiatric care

    Psychiatric care and counselling to identify and treat depression, including to those who had attempted suicide was the key, he said. All these components were part of the WHO's suicide prevention campaign.

    Dr. Saraceno said human rights and mental health was another issue that required much attention. "It is a double issue: people don't have access to human rights, but even when they do, it is worse." Many psychiatric hospitals across the world continued to administer electric shocks to patients and locked them up, violating human rights of the mentally ill.

    Visiting Board

    To improve the situation, the WHO had constituted a Visiting Board in some countries. Each Board consisted of a lawyer, judge, patient, family member, journalist, doctor and social worker.

    The Board visited psychiatric institutions and inspected the facilities, treatment and policy and gave it a rating.

    While the Board had no power to penalise, the experiment was successful in many countries, Dr. Saraceno added.

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