Sunday, November 14, 2010

Attempted suicide prosecuted in Pune

A 21-yr woman attempted suicide by jumping from the fourth floor of the gynaecology ward she was admitted in. She could not stand the pain of complications after a Caesarean Section. Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code was slapped against her by the police. 612 people committed suicide in Pune in 2008. This gives a documented suicide rate in Pune of 16.3 persons per 100,000 population. The national suicide rate is 10.8/100,000. This data is based on police records. A verbal autopsy study (1994-99) estimated an actual suicide rate of 95.2/100 000 population —nine times the national average.

This tragic incident and its background needs further analysis

How common is attempted suicide in a 21 year old woman during and after pregnancy?
The suicide rate for 15–24 year females is 109/100000. This exceeds the male rate of 78/100 000. Suicide is responsible for 49% of all deaths in women at these ages. During pregnancy attempted suicide is about 40 per 100,000 pregnancies. Women that attempted suicide during pregnancy had increases in caesarean delivery. One percent of people who attempt suicide complete it within a year

Why are official suicide rates gross underestimates?
Attempted suicide is a symptom associated with the stigma of mental illness and also the stigma of crime. To avoid this double stigma patients and we doctors collude to label the suicide attempt as accidental. Another verbal autopsy study (1997-98) of all deaths in a rural area showed that half the deaths ascribed to injuries were actually suicides. The real suicide rates are distorted depending on the degree of under-reporting.

So what if official suicide rates are gross underestimates?
80-95% of suicide is associated with treatable physical problems (including unremitting pain) and psychiatric problems (including post partum depression). When under-reported - resources meant for treatment of psychiatric disorders, including those for knowledge dissemination and manpower, are diverted to other problems.  A California study found that a psychiatric disorder increased the risk of postpartum suicide attempts 27.4-fold. The discrimination against females with mental illness is raised to a national level. People are left unaware that the conditions resulting in suicide attempts are disorders that are treatable; doctors and paramedical staff are not trained to recognise conditions that could lead to suicide; primary care doctors are unaware of simple, effective and available psychiatric treatment options. 

Why is the suicide rate in Pune one-and-a-half times the national average?
Among the many social factors associated with suicide, addressing suicide attempts humanely would contribute more to bringing down the actual suicide rate – definitely more so than prosecution. This high suicide rate in Pune may also have a flip side – we may have a better reporting system.