Finding the cause of suicides

By C M Niroula

More than 80,000 individuals have been resettled in the US from Bhutanese refugee camp since 2008. There are so many successful stories from these community. There is no actual data but we estimate 15% plus have become homeowners. Less than 0.02% are pursuing their Masters and PhD level education in various US Universities. Estimated 0.5% run businesses while others are still in the struggling phase of their  settlement.

From the life of complete hopelessness living in the refugee camps, these people landed quite suddenly in the land of opportunities and their expectations suddenly skyrocketed. Though alcohol and drugs related deaths are quite prevalent in US but in the case Bhutanese Community such cases are quite negligible.

The causes of alarming cases of suicide and miseries that has been seen in the recent days in these newly resettled Bhutanese Communities can be suspected due to Money Laundering, Cheating among couples, Financial Crisis, Frequently visiting casinos, Gambling etc.  But people are not ready to accept these bitter facts. 

If we ask elderly Bhutanese why they preferred to resettle in USA inspite of being illiterate   in American language and culture, their simple answer is to make the prospect of their future generations bright. Let’s see here, if this expectation of making bright future is being materialised or is in the process of being materialised or not. What percentage of high school graduates are going back to college for their higher education? Why the percentage of Bhutanese community youths who are pursuing or in the process of pursuing university education still negligible? Where is this the community heading onto?

Too many leisure parties, enjoyments, and mismanagement of finance could be other causes for such alarming cases of suicide. But are they aware that they may be heading towards the wrong track? I think not because no one wanted to have a mentor in their life and no one wanted to become second to others. Who do I count to? Or who knows better than me? Such is the mentality of our community members which needs to be changed if we have to bring some halts to immature and unnatural death in our community.

Nevertheless this is not exactly where our society is heading to! There are so many success stories to share but still hanging to death continues in much alarming manner. Lack of one national community organisation, insufficient budget among state, city’s based Bhutanese community organisations and lack of coordinated and organised awareness programs can be the contributing factors for these problems to be triggered.

Mostly young men and women from the ages of 20-45 are highly suicidal. And most of them speak English as well. So far no one has the exact number of people that have committed suicide among US based Bhutanese Community. I have tried to reach out to few community leaders who are working for the betterment of the community members and asked about their opinion on this burning issues. 

“There are so many subsets as a causative agent, but to me, the significant cause that has to do with increasing mental health or the suicidal rate is due to the complete change in the economic and social system that we have never thought of and grow up.” Suraj Budathoki.

I think western medicine and western culture of treatment to such menace has failed to cure and thus multidisciplinary interventions are the need of the hour if it has to be stopped.

“Imbalance domestic set up, conservative way of thinking, sometimes hunger of superiority mixes that forms a poison of ego, could be the cause of suicide”, says  Bhakta Ghimire.

So many ups and downs in life, weather changing, blame game, jealousy and hatred among each other should not be the cause of committing suicide as these things exists in every other community.

Could it be work related issues? Most of our people are aware of workplace harassment. The existence of caste system and dogmatic religious beliefs could also not be the cause as such incidents are taking place in all segments of our society.

What might be the most immediate reason that made these people (age mostly ranging between 20 to 40 years) to think of ending their life the most? A friend of mine recently told me that he is also traumatised and he is also concerned that anyone including himself could be next in the line of ending life immaturely. He said he wanted to request the concerned community leaders to come together towards finding a lasting solutions to these menaces.

Another community leader I spoke to Dillip Dahal said, “I think there isn’t any single reason. Putting together a compelling cases study, several reasons in our community can increase the risk of suicide, such as quick decision made on domestic violence. Specifically, illiterate individual feel they are socially isolated or are victim of bullying or harassment from the minors. Family  history  and excessive use of alcohol may also have contributed to suicides. Or may be people see suicides as the solution to several personal problems such as depression, panic attack, personality disorder, gambling, social loss, difficulty seeking help or support, religion, language.”

“One of the major causes of suicide in our community is the lack of proper mental health services”, said Mr. Robin Gurung another community leader.

Binod Khatiwada wanted to put his perspective in the following words: “Perception, existing belief and understanding about life are some of the reason of suicide. Society, spiritual leaders and individual should consider and highlight suicide as sin and crime. Simply be thankful, happy with what you have, living own life without comparison is open secret comprehensive solution”.

Failure to fulfil too many expectations, becoming unnecessarily ambitious, involving in competition to lavish life style, procuring loans without assessing own capacity to repay it back on time can be other imminent causes of suicide according to Ram Karki, a Bhutanese Community leader from The Netherlands.

People need to understand that seeking help is the best way to save them. 

Attending spiritual program, having frequent social gathering and sharing one’s success and pain, regular health screening could be helpful in one’s life. If possible reducing the habit of working overnight is also the best option because lack of enough sleep leads to depression which ultimately become the cause of suicide.

Other immigrants and host communities are also facing similar challenges. 

According to WHO, one person commit suicide every 40 seconds. While 79 percent of the world’s suicides occurs  in low- and middle-income countries, researchers said high-income countries had the highest rates, with 11.5 deaths per 100,000 people. But our story is a bit different from other minority or host community. Here these people are neither having too less income nor unemployed. 

An individual anonymously told me his brother committed suicide because of loneliness. He said there is no spiritual places for worship or social gatherings in USA. My research in the Bhutanese community in Harrisburg and Columbus Ohio shows we are divided along Sampradhayas, Dharma, Jatt and Barna lines. Do we have a stronger community leadership who can unify this extensively divided community? It is a million dollar question.

We have the onus to seek further honest research on this. We have the onus to find solution to keep community members engaged and occupied. 

Community organisations who cannot take urgent initiatives to educate every one of us towards minimising risk of further suicides will face question in history about their objectives of being a community organisation. 


(Writer is a Bhutanese journalist and also a trained suicide prevention trainer from NAMI NH)

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