Picture This: If Indian States Were Countries – Suicide Mortality

Ankur Bhardwaj, Vibhav Khandelwal

Published on the CEDA website on 19 November 2021


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 700,000 people die by suicide every year in the world. It is also the fourth leading cause of deaths for 15-19-year-olds.  These tragedies affect lives, families, and have a strong impact on the family left behind. The WHO states that suicide prevention efforts require coordination between various sectors like health, education, society, law, justice, politics, and media.

It is also important to note that these are deaths that are reported as suicides. Given the stigma surrounding suicides, these would be under-reported, i.e., families would be reluctant to report that deaths were due to suicide.

In India, data on suicide mortality is maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). As per NCRB, India sees more than 100,000 deaths by suicide every year with there being 139,123 such deaths in the country in 2019. According to NCRB India had a suicide mortality rate of 10.4 (per 100,000 population) in 2019. However, as per the World Bank (WB), India’s suicide mortality rate in 2019 was 12.7.

In this graph, we look at suicide mortality rates across Indian states and other countries in the world. We ask which countries Indian states would be closest to if they were countries themselves.

The graph above shows Indian states as blue bubbles and other countries as red bubbles. The size of the bubble is determined by the population of the state or the country. Their GDP Per Capita in Intl $ (International $, which according to the World Bank, “would buy in the cited country a comparable amount of goods and services a U.S. dollar would buy in the United States.”) is plotted against the x-axis, and their suicide mortality rate (2019) is plotted against the y-axis.

The NCRB provides a break-up of state-wise deaths by suicide in the year 2019. With 18,916 deaths, Maharashtra saw the highest number of deaths by suicide in 2019. This was 13.6 percent of all such deaths in the country in 2019. The state had a suicide mortality rate of 15.4. Maharashtra had a GDP per capita of (Intl $) 9,922. If Maharashtra was a country, its GDP per capita would be closest to Philippines (Intl $ 9,291) and Jamaica (Intl $ 10,190). However, Maharashtra’s suicide mortality rate of 15.4 is much higher than both Philippines (2.2) and Jamaica (2.4).

Among Union Territories (UTs), Andaman & Nicobar Islands had the highest suicide mortality rate of 45.5 in 2019. Its GDP per capita (Intl $) 10,655 puts it just behind Iraq (Intl $11,012). According to WB data, Iraq had a suicide mortality rate of only 3.6 in 2019.

Among states, Chhattisgarh (Intl $ 5,203) has the highest suicide mortality rate in the country at 26.4 followed by Kerala (Intl $ 10,572) at 24.3. If Chhattisgarh was a country, it would be closest to Bangladesh (Intl $ 4,954) and Myanmar (Intl $ 5,297) in GDP per capita terms. While Chhattisgarh’s suicide mortality rate in 2019 was 26.4, Bangladesh and Myanmar’s suicide mortality rates were 3.7 and 2.9 only.

Similarly, Kerala would find itself closest to Jordan (Intl $ 10,497) and Iraq (Intl $ 11,012). While Kerala’s suicide mortality was a high 24.3 in 2019, Jordan was at 1.6 and Iraq at 3.6.

Using NCRB data on suicides in states in the year 2019, suggests Bihar had a suicide mortality rate of only 0.5, the lowest among states in the country (Lakshadweep, a UT had zero deaths by suicide in 2019). This underlines the fact that these are reported cases of death by suicide only. Bihar’s GDP per capita (Intl $ 2,076) places it closest to Afghanistan (Intl $ 2,152). While Bihar’s suicide mortality rate was 0.5, Afghanistan’s was 4.1.

The state-wise data for deaths by suicide has been taken from NCRB while their GDP Per Capita is calculated Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MoSPI) report on Indian State Domestic Product 2019. For other countries both suicide mortality rate and GDP Per Capita data have been taken from the World Bank database.

Does higher state GDP per capita have a correlation with higher reporting of deaths by suicide? When we look at 12 states and UTs that have a GDP per capita of more than Intl $ 10,000, we find wide variation in their suicide rates. So, while Gujarat has a suicide rate of 11.1 (with 7,655 deaths by suicide in 2019 and 5.5 percent of all such deaths in the country), Telangana has a suicide rate of 20.6 (7,675 deaths and 5.5 percent of all such deaths in the country). Similarly among states with lower GDP per capita, we find that Chhattisgarh has a suicide rate of 26.4 while West Bengal’s is 13. Therefore, state GDP per capita and suicide mortality rate (which could reflect higher reporting instead of more deaths) do not appear to be correlated.

Data and visualization: Vibhav Khandelwal; Text: Ankur Bhardwaj


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