Suicide and Self – Harm

According to WHO data, the age standardized suicide rate in India is 16.4 per 100,000 for women (6th highest in the world) and 25.8 for men (ranking 22nd).
There could be many reasons behind a person committing suicide. Poor mental health care system in India is linked to the high suicide rate. They could be impulsive, depressed or crying out for help. Many farmers in India die by suicide due to socio-economic reasons or natural calamities like droughts, low yield prices, exploitation by middlemen and inability to pay loans. Domestic violence is another major risk factor for suicide.

Suicide is an attempt to escape pain and suffering, and not burdening loved ones any longer. The feelings of hopelessness, depression and worthlessness are associated with suicide.

While some suicides may occur without any warning signs, most people who are suicidal do show some warning signs, such as:

  • Taking unnecessary risks and impulsivity
  • Expressing a strong wish to die or to kill oneself
  • Exhibiting anger and/or rage
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Isolating or withdrawing oneself
  • Displaying mood swings
  • Telling loved one’s goodbye
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions
  • Referring to death via poetry, writings and drawings
  • Changing eating or sleeping patterns
  • Decline in performance
  • Exhibiting dramatic changes in personality or appearance
A person who self-harms may not intend to commit suicide, but their self-injurious behaviour may result in an accidental death. Research also states that men are four times more likely to die from suicide than women, but women attempt suicide more often during their lifetime. The ratio of male to female suicides in India is 4:3. Globally, the suicide rate for men is twice as high as for women. In many countries this ratio is even higher. In 2017, the global suicide rate for women was 6.3 deaths per 100,000; for men, it was just over twice that figure at 13.9 per 100,000.
Men are more likely to commit suicide due to social or economic reasons, while women are more likely with emotional and personal causes.
This isn’t surprising – myths often arise when a problem like self-harm is poorly understood.
Some people who are distressed may deliberately harm their bodies, usually secretly, using self-harm as a way of dealing with intense emotional pain. They may cut, burn, scald or scratch themselves, injure themselves, pull their hair or swallow poisonous substances.
Self-harming can cause changes in the brain chemistry, which gives the effects of a “rush” and can easily become addictive and highly dangerous. Self-harm is a response to painful emotions. Unfortunately, it may become a habitual way of coping with life’s stresses. Such people tend to think that as long as they can feel the pain, they are still alive; especially true when they are experiencing emotional numbness or feeling disconnected.

Why do people harm themselves?

While anyone can self-harm, difficult experiences that can result in self-harm relate more to some people than others. The age when people first self-harm ranges from four years old to people in their 60s.
Exam stress, classroom bullying and peer pressure is something that affects a lot of young people, for example. Questions and confusion about sexual orientation are more common for members of the LGBTQ community, and money worries can create greater stress for those on a lower income. These specific pressures, along with discrimination and stigma, can lead to increased tension which may in turn make self-harm more likely.

Reasons young people have given for their self-harm include:

  • When the level of emotional pressure becomes too high it acts as a safety valve – a way of relieving the tension
  • Cutting makes the blood take away the bad feelings
  • Pain can make you feel more alive when feeling numb or dead inside
  • Punishing yourself in response to feelings of shame or guilt
  • When it’s too difficult to talk to anyone, it’s a form of communication about unhappiness and a way of acknowledging the need for help
  • Self-harm gives a sense of control that’s missing elsewhere in life
  • Some people self-harm with the intention of ending their life or they may be unsure about whether they want to survive, for example, taking an overdose and leaving it to fate to decide the outcome.

Some warning signs of self-harm include:

  • Exhibit unexplained cuts or scratches; or always making excuses for having burns/marks or wounds on the body like the wrists, arms, legs, back, hips, or stomach
  • Wearing hoodies or long sleeves even during hot days to conceal the wounds
  • Have had a significant event in their lives, e.g. a breakup
  • Isolation and avoiding social situations like spending long periods locked in a bedroom or bathroom
  • Suffer poor academic/school performance when they usually do very well
  • Finding razors, scissors, lighters or knives in strange places (i.e., the nightstand drawer or under the bed)
What to say or do if someone you know is self-harming or contemplating suicide?
(CMHA, 2013; CSP, 2014)
  • Ask how they are feeling.
  • Do not be judgmental.
  • Do not avoid the subject.
  • Acknowledge their pain.
  • Be supportive without reinforcing their behaviour.
  • Educate yourself about self-harm.
  • Do not promise confidentiality.
  • Remind them of their positive qualities and things they do well.
  • Try to have honest communication, where you take responsibility for any fears you have.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help by offering to help them find support (see useful contacts).
Yes, Self-harm is treatable. Psychotherapy in conjunction to medication is used to treat self-harm. Even the thoughts about committing suicide should always be taken seriously. If your child or anyone you know exhibits the warning signs mentioned above, ask if he/she is thinking about suicide. You can encourage them to seek help by connecting them to nearest mental health professional.
Here is a list of Suicide Prevention helpline numbers operating in the country.
So, if anyone around you (or you for that matter) is going through a stressful time and has suicidal tendencies, you can seek help from a specialist at the numbers listed below.

1. Sanjivan
Website :
Centre 1: 011-24311918 , 011-24318883 , 011-43001456
(Monday to Friday : 10am to 5.30 pm)
Centre 2: 011- 40769002 , 011-41092787
(Monday to Saturday : 10am to 7.30pm)

2. Sumaitri : 011-23389090
Weekdays : 2pm to 10 pm
Sat and Sun : 10am to 10pm

3. ICALL ( Operated by TISS ) – 022-25521111
(Monday to Saturday : 10am to 10 pm)

4. Fortis 24*7 Stress Helpline : +91-8376804102

5. Lifeline Foundation : 033-24637401 , 033-24637432
Monday to Sunday : 10am to 6pm

6. Ngo Space : LGBT (Transgender Community Helpline) : 1800111015
For more numbers visit:

Note: Manotsav Foundation does not own, operate or run the helpline numbers listed above. The helpline numbers are shared for referral use only, and we do not make any recommendation for the quality of response and medical advice you might receive from any of the helpline and organizations.

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