For example, all the pandemic months except April and May of 2020 and February and March of 2021 had a significantly higher suicide rate compared to the same months in 2019. In comparison to the same month in 2019, July 2020 (just after the first lockdown) had the highest increase in the suicide rate with an increment of 55%.
Researchers have pointed out limited or lack of economic resources, public health infrastructure and awareness about mental health as leading factors for the increase in suicides in Nepal during the pandemic.
Nepal is one of the countries with highest suicides rates in the world according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The 2021 Nepal Health Research Council (NHRC)’s National Mental Health Survey found the prevalence of suicidality (current suicidal thoughts, lifetime suicidal attempt and future likelihood of suicidal thoughts) at a high of 7.2% among Nepalis.
During the study period of this latest survey, the highest proportion of the suicides were observed in Bagmati province (5,709; 23.4%), followed by Province 1 (5,161; 21.2%), Lumbini (4,757; 19.5%), Madhes (3,053; 12.5%), Gandaki (2,369; 9.7%), Sudurpaschim (2,176; 8.9%), and Karnali (1,125, 4.6%).
But Sudurpaschim and Karnali provinces, two of the provinces with the lowest Human Development Index (HDI), had the highest increase in suicide rates associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘Sudarpaschim and Karnali regions are also known to have a historically high proportion of seasonal migrant workers in India. People in this region could have experienced additional distress as their migrant family members lost their jobs in India because of the business closure and lockdown,’ states the study.
Alternatively, Province 1 which has the highest HDI and relatively low poverty rate among seven provinces has had consistently high pre-Covid-19 suicide rates, but had the smallest increase during the pandemic.
Official data shows that Nepal registered an early increase in the suicide rate and mental health problems during the pandemic. Many factors come into play: lack of financial stimulus packages in the beginning, irresponsible media reportage about the virus, conflicting messages by authorities and the social stigma of being infected all added to the psychological stress in the public.
Restrictions during the pandemic also meant that mental health patients were unable to get timely consultation and medication, further aggravating their condition.
‘Public health interventions to the pandemic, especially the severe ones like lockdowns and business closure, should incorporate economic safety nets and mental health service delivery mechanisms catered to geographic, socio-economic differences and needs,’ recommend the researchers.