Brain and Body

What’s Really Behind the Suicide Epidemic in This Small Indian Village?

May 11, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

Farm in India
Photo credit: Ramnath Bhat/wikimedia (CC by SA 2.0). A farm in India

Locals blame demons, but a psychiatrist offers another explanation.

A tragic epidemic has taken a village in India by storm — the region of Khargone has reported 381 suicides in the past year, particularly in the small rural village of Badi, which has a population of just 2,500. In the past two decades, Badi has seen over 350 suicides, and 80 Badi villagers killed themselves in the first three months of this year alone, according to the Times of India.

Struggling to explain the tragic phenomenon, the villagers blame a demonic presence for the continuous wave of death. Others say socio-economic disadvantage and underfunded medical services are to blame, since Khargone is one of the poorest regions in the country. However, there may be another factor at play, according to Srikanth Reddy, a psychiatrist from the nearby city of Indore.

"Depression isn't something people here are easily able to relate to or identify,” Reddy told the Times of India. “When they are unable to find any reason, they associate it with locally explainable phenomenon like demonic presence.”

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Reddy offers a potential explanation for the high rates of depression and mental episodes — he says they could be triggered by an excess of farming pesticides.

In fact, Reddy says that a similar case occurred in China a few years ago, in which a number of farmers in a particular area were committing suicide.

The World Health Organization commissioned a study to investigate the phenomenon, and researchers looked at 10 rural communities in the Zhejiang province in China.

“The use and availability of pesticides are significant concerns in the field of mental health,” the researchers write, “not only because these chemicals are used in suicide attempts, but also because their possession may be directly associated with mental disorder.”

The results revealed a clear correlation between the communities with easier access to pesticides — particularly organophosphates — and rates of suicide and mental illness. However, the study simply found a link between the two, and the actual biological mechanisms behind it all still remain a mystery.

Nonetheless, Reddy believes that pesticides could have something to do with the high rates of suicide in Khargone, and says the suicides “need to be probed.”

Ashok Verma, an official in the village, agrees. Verma is launching a full investigation into the high suicide rates and establishing a special committee to help solve the mystery.

“The villagers lack confidence and motivation and it's very important to counsel them,” Verma told the Times of India. “This is a very grave situation and we need to act fast.”

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