Suicide among teenage girls age 15-19 overtakes maternal mortality as the number one killer globally

In India, ‘logical despair’ leads girls to suicide.

By Dileep ThekkethilSuicide among teen girls

BENGALURU: It seems like the Millennium Development Goal of the UN is going in the right direction when it comes to decreasing the maternal mortality rate but, on the other hand, there is an alarming increase in the number of suicides among teenage girls worldwide, says a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report.

According to the WHO report, the number of self-inflicted deaths among teenage girls are on the rise and tops as the leading killer, pushing back maternal mortality, road accidents and other diseases.

For many years it was believed that deaths caused due to complexities during pregnancy was the reason for most female deaths in the age group of 15-19 but, during the beginning of 2000, the trend suddenly changed and suicide topped the list. This shift in trend went unnoticed until recently.

Suzanne Petroni, a senior director at ICRW was quoted by The Telegraph saying, “I’m not quite sure why we haven’t realised this before. Maternal mortality has come down so much, which is fantastic.”

Before the beginning of the millennium, the number of female deaths caused due to maternity issues in the age group of 15 – 19 was  137.4 deaths per 100,000 girls. This has now come down to 112.6, which according to experts is a great achievement.

But, this has now shifted the spot light to another major killer – suicide.

According to the World Health Organization report “Suicides take a high toll. Over 800 000 people die due to suicide every year and it is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds. There are indications that for each adult who died of suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.”

The WHO report analyzed the trends in six regions. Suicide is the leading culprit in majority of teenage deaths in European countries. Whereas in African countries, maternal death and HIV remains the leading killer and suicide is nowhere in the list of top five causes of deaths.

When it comes to south-east Asia, suicides claim three times more teenage life than any other leading killers. Pakistan and the Middle East, which is included in the eastern Mediterranean region has the second highest teenage suicide rate.

According to WHO, suicides are preventable. For national responses to be effective, a comprehensive multi-sectoral suicide prevention strategy is needed.

The report says that the best way to prevent teenage suicide is by restricting access to commonly used suicidal means such as pesticides, firearms and certain medications.

It also underscores the importance of the community in preventing suicides. The report asks the community to offer social support to individuals who are vulnerable to suicides. This includes giving follow-up care, help fight stigma and support those bereaved by suicide.

Prof. Vikram Patel, a leading Indian origin psychiatrist was quoted by The Telegraph saying “The most probable reason (for female suicide) is gender discrimination. Young women’s lives [in South East Asia] are very different from young men’s lives in almost every way.”

The teenage suicides among females are higher in number when compared to male suicides. According to the WHO report, male suicide rate is 21.41 per 100,000 whereas the female suicide rate is 27.82.

In many countries, including India, teenage girls are taken out of schools and put into household responsibilities, thus shattering their dreams and ambitions. On reaching adolescence, girls are not allowed to mingle with others and in worse cases, not even given permission to step out of their house. In some other cases they are married off at a tender age, causing mental stress due to early and unwanted sex.

According to Patel, in India “female suicide rates are highest in parts of the country with the best education and economy, probably because women grow up with greater aspirations only to find their social milieu limits them.”

He also added that, “fifty per cent of those attempting suicide in China and India do not have a mental illness. They suffer logical despair.”

According to the WHO report, out of 100,000 deaths, 4.72 cases of teenage girl suicides were reported in the whole of American continent, which is below the global average of 11.73.  The least cases of suicides were reported in Australia – 3.91.


  1. Derzu Uzala

    Nowhere in the linked report says “According to the WHO report, male suicide rate is 21.41 per 100,000 whereas the female suicide rate is 27.82.”

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    Anybody who feels lonely or require assistance to cope up with stress, anxiety, depression or suicidal thought can call us for counseling and guidance. We have also established a counseling center that provides free personal counseling sessions for members of the Armed Forces and Paramilitary Forces and their families. Live chat is also available between 10 am to 6 pm.

    We are India’s first CRISIS helpline for the Indian Armed Forces, Paramilitary forces and their families.

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