Suicide mortality in India: a nationally representative survey

Lancet. 2012 Jun 23;379(9834):2343-51. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60606-0.


Background: WHO estimates that about 170,000 deaths by suicide occur in India every year, but few epidemiological studies of suicide have been done in the country. We aimed to quantify suicide mortality in India in 2010.

Methods: The Registrar General of India implemented a nationally representative mortality survey to determine the cause of deaths occurring between 2001 and 2003 in 1·1 million homes in 6671 small areas chosen randomly from all parts of India. As part of this survey, fieldworkers obtained information about cause of death and risk factors for suicide from close associates or relatives of the deceased individual. Two of 140 trained physicians were randomly allocated (stratified only by their ability to read the local language in which each survey was done) to independently and anonymously assign a cause to each death on the basis of electronic field reports. We then applied the age-specific and sex-specific proportion of suicide deaths in this survey to the 2010 UN estimates of absolute numbers of deaths in India to estimate the number of suicide deaths in India in 2010.

Findings: About 3% of the surveyed deaths (2684 of 95,335) in individuals aged 15 years or older were due to suicide, corresponding to about 187,000 suicide deaths in India in 2010 at these ages (115,000 men and 72,000 women; age-standardised rates per 100,000 people aged 15 years or older of 26·3 for men and 17·5 for women). For suicide deaths at ages 15 years or older, 40% of suicide deaths in men (45,100 of 114,800) and 56% of suicide deaths in women (40,500 of 72,100) occurred at ages 15-29 years. A 15-year-old individual in India had a cumulative risk of about 1·3% of dying before the age of 80 years by suicide; men had a higher risk (1·7%) than did women (1·0%), with especially high risks in south India (3·5% in men and 1·8% in women). About half of suicide deaths were due to poisoning (mainly ingestions of pesticides).

Interpretation: Suicide death rates in India are among the highest in the world. A large proportion of adult suicide deaths occur between the ages of 15 years and 29 years, especially in women. Public health interventions such as restrictions in access to pesticides might prevent many suicide deaths in India.

Funding: US National Institutes of Health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Poisoning / mortality
  • Risk Factors
  • Rural Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Distribution
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Urban Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult