23% more minor girls than boys died by suicide in 4 years in Mumbai
MUMBAI: After being repeatedly chided by her parents for spending too much time on her phone and several attempts at self-harm, a 15-year-old girl from the western suburbs died by suicide in early April. In a neighbouring suburb, a class IX student recently ended her life after being blackmailed over some photographs.
These two are not the only minor girls to take the most drastic step in Mumbai.
In what could emerge as a new public health worry, statistics gathered using the RTI Act from Mumbai police show that more minor girls are dying by suicide than minor boys.
Between 2019 and 2022, the police data showed 188 boys died by suicide while 23% more underaged girls (231) ended their lives. Among adults, the reverse still holds, with three times more men than women dying by suicide. Suicides are among the top 10 causes of deaths across the world, with the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In Mumbai, suicides increased by 22% from 1,229 deaths in 2019 to 1,499 in 2022. In these four years, 1,260 women took their own lives while the corresponding number among men was 3,765. The main causes are family-related issues and financial problems. The causes for a higher suicide rate among minor girls could be different, say experts. “It could be stress, gaslighting in relationships, fear of confiding in families about stressors and more parental restrictions for girls than for boys,” says Dr Samya Shinde, who heads the sociology department at LS Raheja College, Santacruz. Body-shaming could be one of the triggers as well, she said.
Cyber psychologist Nirali Bhatia, who has devised a cyberbullying prevention app, concurs. “Among young girls, bullying and body-shaming are reported more frequently. There is pressure to look perfect and desirable—a trait that is amplified by social media,” said Bhatia. With a growing number of youngsters having suicidal thoughts reaching out to Bhatia via the app, she has devised a mechanism for volunteers to immediately reach out to the person on phone.
Dr Bharat Shah, former psychiatry professor at Somaiya Hospital, Sion, lists western influences as well as obsession with social media as the reasons. Whatever the cause(s), he said that there is no denying that instances of suicidal tendencies and self-harm are higher among young girls than boys. Suryakant Yadav, an assistant professor from the International Institute for Population Sciences in Deonar, said the trend of more teenage girls dying by suicide holds true across the country.
Yadav, who recently published a research paper on changing trends in suicides in India in ‘The Lancet’ medical journal, said National Crime Records Bureau data too showed an increased suicide rate among minor girls. “But it wasn’t a statistically significant increase in absolute numbers,” he said. However, if Mumbai has recorded an increase in the number of minor girls dying by suicide for four consecutive years, then there is an urgent need to take up the issue immediately, he added.
Meanwhile, adult males account for the maximum number of deaths by suicide. According to the Mumbai police data, 3,765 men over 18 years of age died by suicide between 2019 and 2022. This was three times the number of women (1,260) who ended their lives in the same period. “The causes are mainly related to unemployment, poor income and other related family issues,” said Dr Yadav. “Men face more external pressures and stressors as compared to women, especially in tier II or III cities. Women have a social network, they exchange recipes and details of their hardship with one another. With these channels of communication, women handle stress better.”
Among both men and women, a majority of suicide victims in the past four years were in the age groups of 18-29 years, as per the Mumbai police’s data. A suicide prevention handbook compiled by the social enterprise Mpower said that social isolation, death of a spouse, divorce or unemployment are major risk factors for individuals in the 18-45 group. Withdrawing from others, substance abuse, giving away possessions or changes in personality could be warning signs, it said.
According to the data, the biggest jump in suicides year-on-year (12%) was witnessed from 2020 to 2021 when Covid-19 broke out. The resultant lockdowns led to job insecurity, impacted household incomes, affected family relationships and impacted mental health. “Several intervention strategies will be needed for suicide prevention,” said Dr Shinde. “Social, psychological and economic factors need to be looked at together and not in isolation. Suicides may have been decriminalised, but the question is whether we have destigmatised them?”