A perception of criminality affects suicide reporting in Nepal, new research shows

A misperception that suicide is a criminal offence has contributed to an under-reporting of suicide in Nepal, according to a new study by the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention.

Nepal has a high number of suicides for a relatively small country, recording 5,754 cases in 2018-19. However, estimates by the World Health Organisation have revealed significant discrepancies in the official figures, suggesting that the available data is not reliable.   

The Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention has conducted new research to understand the relationship between suicide reporting and public attitudes to suicide in Nepal.

The study found that there is a widely shared perception in Nepal that suicide is a criminal offence, despite this never having been the case.

It identified three key factors that contribute to this misperception:

  1. A prevalent stigma of suicide, which is reinforced by the criminalization of suicide in several neighbouring countries.
  2. A confusion between the criminalization of aiding and abetting suicide (which is a criminal offence in Nepal) and suicide attempt (which is not a criminal offence).
  3. Police involvement in investigating and recording suicides.

Dr Leah Utyasheva, CPSP’s Policy Director who led the research, said:

“Even though attempted suicide is not punishable by law, widespread misperception makes it difficult to collect statistical data on suicide since families and survivors are unwilling to report attempts or deaths.

Accurate reporting is essential for the development of suicide prevention strategies.  Urgent action is therefore required to decrease stigma and prevent misperception. This is particularly important if Nepal is to meet the targets set out by the Sustainable Development Goals to reduce suicide rates by 30% by 2030.”

The study involved a literature review and analysis of Nepal’s criminal law on suicide, supported by in-depth expert interviews to examine public attitudes.

The study is published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry