Researching suicide and self-harm among Indian women.

My PhD looks at suicide and self-harm among Indian women. It is clear why I would gravitate towards this topic - I grew up in a small city in South India, where strict gender norms were enforced from an early age. My interest in the relationship between gender and suicide started when I was working at a women’s ward of a psychiatric hospital. Although I found that men and women had different experiences with self-harm and suicide, culture was not an aspect I considered. One of my professors once remarked, “You cannot understand your own culture until you experience another one.” I experienced this when I arrived in the UK for an MSc in Global Mental Health at the University of Glasgow. My year in Scotland provided the opportunity to understand mental health and suicide from a global perspective, and facilitated discussions with women from across the world who had lived experience or academic expertise in suicide and self-harm. These conversations made me reflect on the gender differences I had observed in India, and sparked an interest in understanding the role of society, culture, and religion on women’s mental health.

I was immediately interested when I saw the advertisement for the PhD at the University of Manchester. As an Indian woman who had seen the devastating effects of suicide on family and friends, and due to my strong bonds with women throughout my life, it held great personal significance. It was also a unique opportunity for me to utilise my academic, professional, and personal experience to make a contribution to an incredibly important area of research - suicide rates among Indian women are among the highest in the world, and suicide is currently the leading cause of death among Indian women between the ages of 15 and 39. Understanding suicide and self-harm in the Indian context is crucial for suicide prevention. However, existing research on suicide and self-harm is predominantly focused on Western, high-income countries. My PhD aims to understand how the rates and methods of suicide and self-harm differ between men and women in India, and explore the factors that would increase or decrease the risk of suicide and self-harm in Indian women. Given the importance of marriage and motherhood in Indian culture, I will be exploring how these factors affect women - how do cultural and religious values affect suicidal thoughts and behaviours among married women? What are the perspectives and experiences of pregnant women and new mothers regarding suicide?

I hope that these questions will shed new light on the relationship between gender and suicide in India, and will add to the understanding needed to prevent suicide among this particularly vulnerable group. 

Parvathy Ramesh is a PhD student at the University of Manchester.  She is funded by GCRF and is researching suicide and self-harm among Indian women as part of the SASHI project.

Publication date: 2 March 2021