Earlier this month, an article published in the Lancet Public Health journal ‘Gender differentials and state variations in suicide deaths in India: the Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2016’ revealed some upsetting facts about suicides in the country. The study revealed that between 1990 and 2016, suicide deaths among Indian women increased from 25.3 percent to 36.6 percent. The rate of suicides among the women of our country was more than double the global average. More menacingly, married women account for the highest proportion of suicide deaths among women in India.
Married people were less likely to kill themselves in western countries like US and Australia due to the emotional and social support extended by spouses. But in India, the converse is the case. Marriage is more the matter of social obligation than choice here. It is seen in the way unmarried people who are past their “marriageable age” are treated. Indian culture also exalts the institution of marriage as a cure-all for most problems – be it financial, emotional or mental. These Facts About Suicide Cases in India Highlight The Importance of Promoting Mental Health Awareness.
But far from being a panacea, marriage is a great stressor for Indian women; the findings of the study attests to this fact. Marriage affects an Indian woman’s life more profoundly than her husband’s, making her more vulnerable to suicides. Here’s how.
Arranged and Early Marriage
The prevalence of early and arranged marriages are quite common in India, where young girls are wedded off early as a way to protect family honour. Girls don’t have a say in choosing their life partners and are often given away against their will. Early arranged marriage exerts tremendous pressure on young women, who find it difficult to cope with the demands and responsibilities of a domestic life.
Parental responsibilities at a young age can be an additional stressor. There is plenty of research that shows that early childbirth is related to poorer health and mental outcomes. Women are expected to procreate as early as possible and get saddled with the responsibilities of taking care of children.
Low Social Status
According to the study, married Indian women are also more susceptible to suicides due to their low social status, vis-à-vis men. Lower social status makes them more vulnerable to more hardships such as unemployment, crime, violence, etc. 13 Subtle Signs of Suicidal Behaviour According to a Psychiatrist.
According to a recent survey conducted by the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), every third woman in the country faces domestic violence in the form of physical and sexual assaults. Women often stay back in abusive marriages in India due to social and familial pressure, increasing the risk of suicides in women.
Being economically dependent on their abusive spouses, leave women with little or no chance to exit the marriage. In the absence of means or skills to make a living on their own, many women turn to suicide as an option.
Underlying Mental Disorders
Culturally, Indians believe that most mental problems stem from repressed sexuality and marriage is the only way to treat them. So when women with underlying medical conditions like bipolar, depression or schizophrenia see an exacerbation of their mental condition after they get married, increasing suicide risks.
The combination of social, cultural and economic conditions create an unfavourable environment for married women in India. India’s contribution towards global suicides is increasing, especially for women. The current rate isn’t favourable for India’s socio-demographic index level for women. The study proves to be a wakeup call to address the problem of suicides and devise strategies to tackle this public health problem.
(Other references: Suicide in India: a systematic review; Women and mental health in India: An overview; The Indian “girl” psychology: A perspective; Suicide: An Indian perspective; Marriage as a perceived panacea to mental illness in India: Reality check; Social Class Status and Suicide Characteristics: A Survey among Patients Who Attempted Suicide in Isfahan; Suicide and Forced Marriage)