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Is Nepal failing to address mental health challenges?

Nepal’s suicide problem is increasing in an exponential manner every year.

2023 Mar 08, 12:35, Kathmandu
Representative Illustration (Photo: Flickr/Google)

A policy regarding mental health was adopted back in 1997 in Nepal, however, the implementation is lacking. There are numerous problems in building local-level mental health care systems in Nepal. Overburdening of health workers, lack of psychotropic medicines, mental health supervision, and lack of a coordinating body in the Ministry of Health and Population all serve as major obstacles.

A 2015 study, ‘Mental health care in Nepal: current situation and challenges for the development of a district mental health care plan’, identifies how mental health services in Nepal are only concentrated in the big cities, with 0.22 psychiatrists and 0.06 psychologists per 100,000 population. Although mental health illnesses can be effectively treated at an affordable cost, fewer people have access to such care by medical professionals and stigma surrounding mental health issues further prevents the patient from seeking professional help. According to WHO, effective treatment coverage of mental health illnesses remains extremely low.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Nepal, in 2012, ranked 7th in the world for the highest suicide rate, with 24.9 suicides per 100000 people. The official recording of death by suicide started only a decade ago in Nepal. In the past, as there was no system for recording the data the causes behind the deaths of Nepali people were unknown. However, recent trends show that suicide is a serious problem in current-day Nepal. On the matter, Dr. Ashish Dutta, Superintendent of Nepal Police says,“ Suicide is completely preventable, but we are still losing lives because of it, preventing suicide is the need of the hour, it is important to identify the commonly affected age groups. We need clinical intervention.”

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“Just collecting data does not carry any meaning, psychologists and psychiatrists should analyze the data from a medical perspective,” he adds. Major researchers draw a significant link between depression and suicides. In fact, an overwhelming number of suicides are conducted by people suffering from depression.

Even though women die less from suicide in the world than men, female suicide in Nepal is a bigger concern. Despite the lack of strong suicide surveillance, the suicide rate among women in Nepal is revealed to be exceedingly high. Among women between, 15–45 years old in Nepal, suicide is the leading cause of death, accounting for more than 15 percent of the total mortality. Violence against women, unhappy marriages, financial deprivation, discrimination, lack of opportunities, and awareness all make Nepali women vulnerable to mental health problems.

The lack of research surrounding suicide and overall mental health issues is the key obstacle to preventing effective diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of mental health illnesses in Nepal. According to the Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC), Nepal lacks reliable and nationally representative data on suicide rates.

Information dissemination surrounding suicide is also a major influence in determining how a suicide case can affect other people on a much deeper level. Although creating awareness about suicide and mental health-related issues is important the discussion, media highlights, and social media shares surrounding a particular suicide case can negatively impact the psyche of people prompting dangerous actions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vulnerable individuals may be influenced to engage in imitative behaviors by reports of suicide, particularly if the coverage is extensive, prominent, sensationalist, or explicitly describes the method of suicide.

Research conducted by the WHO has revealed how media reporting surrounding a suicide case has prompted other imitative suicides by people who consumed such reporting.

Following the derivation of such alarming findings, the WHO has ordained some guidelines to be followed when relaying or reporting any information related to suicide. Avoiding languages that sensationalize and normalize suicide, avoiding prominent placements and undue repetition, and avoiding detailed descriptions of the site and method of suicide are just some major ways through which sharing of information related to suicide can be kept safe. Safe information dissemination will help spread awareness of mental health-related issues in the public while keeping in mind the sensitivities surrounding such issues.

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nepal failing to address mental health challenges suicide Mental Health Ministry of Health and Population World Health Organization WHO
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