Why are Nepalis killing themselves during COVID-19 pandemic?
Trilok Sharma and Pravesh Kumar Raut
For the last five months COVID–19 pandemic has become a buzzword amongst Nepalis. At the time of this writing, 31,117 cases of infection and 146 deaths related to this disease have been reported by Nepal Government.
At present, being updated with news related to COVID-19 has become our daily ritual. No matter how hard we try to keep ourselves away from this issue, we cannot avoid the influence of this pandemic in our daily lives. Knowingly or unknowingly, we have become so concerned about this virus that we have totally forgotten something more dangerous that has already started to engulf an average 17 Nepalis a day. During lockdown, everyday 17 Nepalis are committing suicide. Before lockdown, the number was 14 which still is high.
Just two months back in June, I (Trilok) had participated in webinar “Health: Covid 19 Effects on Youth Psychology” organized by APEX Talks. From notable psychologist duo Dr. Ganga Pathak and Kripa Sigdel I first came to know about this data and was shocked. At first, I did not believe questioning myself how the suicide rate could be so high in this small country with less than 30 million population. But time and again both of them were confirming this figure.
Indeed, this was true which I later confirmed that evening by visiting websites of some organizations that work on mental health. I even felt sad for being the student of counseling psychology and not knowing this. Like me I can bet that there is large chunk of educated Nepali people living in metropolitan city Kathmandu who are totally unaware about this jaw dropping statistics as neither Nepal government nor media highlights mental health issue.
According to ReliefWeb, a humanitarian information service provided by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in just 74 days of lockdown 1227 Nepalis ended their life by themselves compared to total 5785 suicide cases of last year.
Dr Kamal Gautam, executive director of Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) – Nepal, an NGO that works on mental health, warns that this number could increase as a lot of people are under a lot of stress.
Now the big question to be answered by experts is- why are more Nepalis taking their lives during the pandemic?
In fact, it is not only Nepalis but people around the world are facing the issue of mental health during the pandemic. World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that impact of pandemic on people’s mental health is already extremely concerning. He further adds that social isolation, fear of contagion and loss of family members has been further intensified by distress caused by loss of income and often employment, resulting in deterioration of mental health.
When someone either talks about suicide or attempts to commit suicide, it is clear and strong indication that there is something seriously wrong in that person’s life. Suicide is often taken as a desperate try to escape from terrible suffering that the person is experiencing in his life.
Suicide is taken as a desperate try to escape from terrible suffering that the person is experiencing in his life.
There can be many reasons for a person to commit suicide. In a normal situation, some of the common suicidal causes could be broken relationship, financial crisis, public or private shame, social conflict, loneliness, social isolation, chronic pain or illnesses. But in this specific pandemic situation, psychologists believe that there are other major causes which are vastly different than the above mentioned ones. According to them, the intensity of some of the above mentioned causes have increased exponentially in this extraordinary time in comparison to usual time.
For instance, financial crisis can be taken as one example. In ordinary time, there too used to be financial crisis but still people hoped for the recovery and return to normalcy by working tirelessly. But in this extraordinary time, people are confined in a place and there is no way to carry out their plan anytime soon. So, the financial crisis is mounting day by day which leads them to feel hopelessness for recovery and some would try to end themselves as an escape.
Bhagwati, hailing from Dolakha district in central Nepal, attempted to kill herself. She, a 38-year old, tried to end her life after her husband lost his job during lockdown and the family was under pressure to repay the loan and to fulfill the basic demands of children.
Another recent suicide case that created headlines in all Nepali media was of Bishweshar Yadav at MithilaBihari Municipality in Province 2. Yadav who had returned from Delhi after losing his job due to lockdown in the Indian capital, was tested COVID positive. For 10 days he was kept in quarantine center and later discharged with no PCR test as there was no symptom of virus in his body. Happily he went home but family and society started to misbehave him fearing infection. All of a sudden all his loved ones became strangers. Family members even started to serve food him in banana leaves. People’s representative did not heed Yadav’s plea for confirmatory PCR test and did not pay attention to the humiliation he was facing. Seeing everywhere dark with no light and hope, Yadav hanged himself in a tree nearby his house. This is how shame pushes a person in the mouth of death.
The obvious reason for suicide would be loneliness as well as social isolation. These two things have increased to its optimum during this pandemic. Under the Nepal government COVID-19 guidelines, people are supposed to remain in a place and avoid meetings unless it is urgently needed. It is true that there are many ways nowadays to meet virtually but the lively meeting with physical interaction cannot be replaced by virtual meeting which many of us might have understood already. Virtual meeting is just like a “better than to have nothing”.
Therefore, for some first few weeks, people dealt with the situation relatively in a better way reading books, watching TV, surfing internet and likewise but as the lockdown kept on continuing, the same thing once people enjoyed started getting bored. And as there is no concrete strategy to fight against COVID and proper reopening timelines from the executive personnel, it added hopelessness on people which may lead some of them who cannot deal with the situation to end themselves.
Youths, an active age group, has many plans regarding their future. It can be future study plans, personal relationship, new jobs, economic plans and many more which are completely halted by this pandemic. And it is not like a strike of day or two which we Nepalis were facing for a long time to which we could recover with little extra effort. But this time, it is completely different situation. Some may be able to continue with their plans but for some it could have been a complete halt. You did a hard work for many years and suddenly everything changes. It can be heartbreaking for many. Some can handle it or cope it in a healthy way while some cannot and see themselves in a completely hopeless situation which can ultimately take them toward the path of destruction.
Many psychologists and public health experts firmly believe “hopelessness” as an ultimate point to all the causes mentioned above. In their view, no matter how worse the situation is, if people have some hope to be better in coming time then people will not go to the direction of suicide. But as people become hopeless and surrender themselves to the situation and if there is no one to boost their faith or hope then suicidal situation can be inevitable. Bishweshar Yadav is just one example.
Suicide can be foreseeable for sure if there is lack of people around who could boost up the mood of people who are in complete hopelessness. Before the pandemic, there used to be more interaction between people. People could go and eat together, watch movies, work and engage in sporting activities which would work as support system for everyone involved and such activities would definitely help to them to recharge mentally and be hopeful and accept the things around as they are. Now, these things are completely seized and with increased hopelessness in people with no recharging factors, suicidal tendency has become predictable.
Sharma is a development professional pursuing Post-Graduate Diploma in Counselling Psychology at Tri-Chandra College and Raut is a lecturer of Psychology at Tri-Chandra College.
Published on 24 August 2020