Summary In this chapter we illustrate epidemiological findings on attempted suicide in South Asian people in their countries of origin and in the UK and compare social and cultural factors across the two settings. There is considerable evidence to suggest that rates of attempted suicide are elevated in South Asian women. The causes of this increase are not clearly understood. In this chapter we explore some of the underlying reasons and differences between adolescent and young adult women of South Asian descent.
Humans have attempted and successfully completed suicide since time immemorial. The reasons for killing or harming oneself vary with cultures and societies and in urban and rural settings. In ancient European cultures, suicide was common, usually by hanging among women and by self-harm with various tools among men. Ancient Hindu texts allowed individuals to kill themselves, but in later Upanishadic periods suicide was generally condemned, although it was acceptable for holy men, especially if they had reached the stage in their life where they had gained insight into life's problems. Suicide was permitted on religious grounds, as death was seen as the beginning of another life. Somasundaram et al (1989) report that the Purananuru, a great 11th-century Tamil collection of poems includes references to self-immolation by a widow on the death of her husband. There is also mention of suicide by starvation or fasting. The authors conclude that, irrespective of race, religion, culture and location of the civilisation, there was almost identical motivation for suicidal behaviour. In most countries cited in the World Health Organization's statistics on suicide rates in 2004, the rate for men is two to four times higher than that for women. China and India are the exceptions, where rates across genders are comparable. In both of these countries, conflict with family or in-laws is often cited as a major contributing factor (Bhugra et al, 1999a; Zhang et al, 2004).
Parasuicide, attempted suicide and self-harm may be suicidal gestures, manipulative attempts to seek help or unsuccessful attempts to die.