Publication Date

Spring 5-1-2012

Degree Name

MA in Conflict Transformation

First Advisor

John Ungerleider

Second Advisor

Tatsushi Arai


In 2009, a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity (MMM) report carried out in Nepal by the Family Health Division of the Department of Health Services accidently stumbled upon a surprising leading cause of death in Nepali women of reproductive age (15 - 49). The result: suicide. And the numbers are still on the rise. There have since been no comprehensive follow-up studies and none, to my knowledge, that are currently ongoing. This leaves an urgent need for research to be done on the causes of these suicides (Benson and Shakya, 2011; Bertolote et al, 2005; Pradhan et al, 2009).

Globally, there is one death by suicide every 40 seconds (IASP, 2012). The number of lives lost around the world to suicide annually exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined (IASP, 2012). It is agreed in international literature that female suicides are higher than male suicides within Nepal due to social and cultural factors, whereas, globally, male suicide rates are higher. It’s estimated that 15-20 women commit suicide every month in Nepal (Sarkar, 2010). Attempt rates can be 10-20 times higher.

Legally, in Nepal, suicide is a crime and socially it is stigmatized. Many suicides are reported as accidents due to the family’s fear of stigma- if they are reported at all (Mental Health Foundation, 2012; Himalayan News Service, 2011). One study estimates that only 10% of all suicide cases are reported to the police due to legal difficulties and stigma (Rauniyar, 2010).

In Nepal’s neighboring countries, there are reports and studies on female suicide as well. Parallels can be drawn between the countries, especially India, because the existing social structures and stress faced by women are very similar. Indian studies point to factors involving problems with in laws and inter-personal relationships as causes of female suicide (Bhugra and Desai, 2002; Parkar et al, 2008; Vijaykumar, 2007). Married women had a higher rate of suicide (Patel et al, 2012). In one comparative study, Asian women reported more marital problems than their United Kingdom counterparts (Bhugra and Desai, 2002). A Pakistani study shows the same results: 75% of the women were under 30 and the majority were married (Khan and Reza, 1998). Women cited problems with their spouses or in laws as reasons for their suicidal behavior. In China, suicide is the leading cause of death among girls and boys aged 15-34 (Zhang, 2010). One Chinese study found marriage in China to be a risk factor for suicide. In fact, most risk factors for female suicide were family related, especially involving tensions with the mother in law (Zhang, 2010). Research in Nepal shows similar findings. Khan and Reza found the systemic social, economic, and legal discrimination against women in Pakistan predisposes them to psychological distress and suicidal behavior (1998). The same is argued for Nepal. A report from Bir Hospital in Kathmandu - where more than 80% of suicide patients go- found adjustment after marriage, domestic violence, and bad inter-personal relationship with family members to be key causes of suicide (Bhattarai, 2010; Sharma, ND). The question I pose for my research is as follows: What are the causes of suicidal behavior among young, married women in Nepal?

For the purpose of this study, ‘young’ is defined as between the ages of 15- 35. I have chosen to focus on married women because of the complex family dynamics that arise in Nepali marriages, especially arranged marriages. One study on suicide attemptees found that married women within the age of 15 to 30 were a major group to attempt suicide (Sharma, no date). Women of reproductive age carry the triple burden of productive, reproductive, and caring work (Astbury, 2001). Unlike most Western countries where marriage is a protective factor against suicide, in many Asian countries it increases suicidal vulnerability because the risk factors are family related (Parkar et al, 2008). For most young, married women in Asia today married life means depression, mental torture, self-immolation, bride burning for dowry, etc (Joshi and Kharel, 2008).

I hope that my research findings will yield some clarification into the causality of such a high suicide rate in these women. I did not intend this study to be entirely comprehensive, merely to open avenues for further, larger studies.


Anthropology | Asian Studies | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatric and Mental Health | Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy | Psychology | Sociology


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