Bhutan Editorial: At least one suicide occurs weekly

BHUTAN—Suicide is the sixth most common form of death in Bhutan, according to an editorial published in the kingdom’s national newspaper, Kuensel, on Feb. 26. The statistic is juxtaposed against Bhutan’s longstanding policy to measure Gross National Happiness, or GNH.

            There is a growing concern within the South Asian kingdom of suicides amongst farmers, though the Kuensel editorial stated 60 percent of reported suicides within Bhutan were for “unknown” reasons.

            Bhutanese farmers are “the least happy,” according to the editorial, which was headlined, “The neglected.”

            “While every life lost is one too many, a worrying trend we are witnessing is the increasing cases of suicide among farmers. The last two GNH surveys found that farmers, the biggest occupational group in the country, are the least happy,” the editorial stated. “Except during elections, agriculture and farmers remain neglected. Suicides may be a manifestation of distress our farming community is subjected to.”

            About five percent of the Bhutan population contemplated suicide, according to the most recent GNH survey, with one in five of those respondents actually attempting to take their own lives.

            “Although under reported, suicide is among the top six causes of death in the country today, making it an issue of national concern that demands serious collective action. The last government showed some political will to address this growing public health concern,” the Feb. 26 editorial stated. “The new government, which has remained occupied in fulfilling its pledges, must not squander time to address the issues troubling these vulnerable groups.”

            A review of suicides in 2016 revealed social problems and psychological matters played a role in some of the reported suicides.

            “That farmers, the employed and students top the list of those committing suicides annually show that efforts, if any, to enhance the wellbeing of these occupational groups have fallen sorely short,” the editorial stated.

            The editorial went on to state Bhutan, as a whole, has “neglected” farmers and the youth “for far too long.”

            “With stressors varying for each age group and given the complex nature of suicide, there is a need for targeted interventions. A country that emphasizes on the well-being of its people can ill afford to ignore the growing issue of suicide,” the Feb. 26 editorial stated. “We have studies and statistics to frame polices. What we lack is the will.”

            Bhutan began pursuing its Gross National Happiness initiative in the 1970s. The GNH measures 124 indicators. The most recent Gross National Happiness Commission was established in 2015.

            What does the GNH measure? An analysis of the GNH in BBN Times identified nine domains: community vitality; cultural diversity and resilience; ecological diversity; education; good governance; health; living standards; psychological well-being; and, time use.

            Bhutan, a landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas, became a monarch in the 1950s, shortly after separating from India. The two countries, however, still work together on foreign policy. Parliamentary elections were held for the first time in Bhutan in 2008. Her natural resources are timber, hydropower, gypsum and calcium carbonate, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

            The kingdom’s population is 766,397, as of July 2018; the average Bhutanese lives for 71 years.

Farmer suicides are common outside of Bhutan, as well. A study published by India’s National Institutes of Health in May 2017 stated the world’s second-most populous country witnessed about 300,000 farmer-suicides in the past two decades. There are many reports - some conflicting – on India’s farmer-suicide epidemic. At least one Bollywood film – Peepli Live (2010) – shed some light on the controversial issue.