But most of all, analysing suicide attempts can be a powerful tool for prevention. On average, there are six attempts behind every suicide. Up to 80% of people with suicidal ideation reveal their intention to either a family member, friends or their doctors within a month before their attempt.
“We forget that even before the pandemic suicide rates were very high in Nepal and while the pandemic might have added to the problem, the figures alone don’t mean anything if we fail to also study suicide attempts to find a stronger link between the prevalence and the contributing factors,” says Rabi Shakya, psychiatrist and director of Patan Academy of Health Sciences.
He adds: “Historically, there have been more suicides after than during the crisis due to the long-term socioeconomic impacts. So we must start preparing for the pandemic of mental health problems including suicides post-Covid. Our health care workers must be trained and fanned out across the country.”
Nepalis are not new to mental health problems induced by a crisis. The 10-year-long Maoist insurgency killed 17,000 people but many more continue to suffer from PTSD, depression, anxiety and distress. A 2017 report published in the journal Lancet found as high as 37.5% of the general public had some form of psychological disorder.
The 2015 earthquake further added to Nepal’s epidemic of mental disorders. Survivors who had narrow escapes or lost family members reported increased panic attacks, anxiety and trauma.
But conflicts, disasters and pandemics have shined a light on mental health with an increased national and foreign investment in prevention and management. With larger chunks of the population impacted, there is now more acceptance and the field is starting to get the priority it warrants.
Says Rishav Koirala, WHO focal person for mental health post-2015 earthquake: “The best way to prevent suicides is to address underlying psychological disorders and crises, despite adding to the burden has helped normalise them because many more people can now relate and understand that they are treatable.”