Suicide surveillance and health systems in Nepal: A qualitative and social network analysis

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



International Journal of Mental Health Systems








Developing countries; Health systems; Law enforcement; Nepal; Policy; Suicide; Suicide detection; Vital surveillance


© 2016 The Author(s). Background: Despite increasing recognition of the high burden of suicide deaths in low- and middle-income countries, there is wide variability in the type and quality of data collected and reported for suspected suicide deaths. Suicide data are filtered through reporting systems shaped by social, cultural, legal, and medical institutions. Lack of systematic reporting may underestimate public health needs or contribute to misallocation of resources to groups most at risk. Methods: The goal of this study was to explore how institutional structures, cultural perspectives on suicide, and perceived criminality of self-harm influence the type and quality of suicide statistics, using Nepal as an example because of its purported high rate of suicide in the public health literature. Official documentation and reporting networks drawn by police, policy makers, and health officials were analyzed. Thirty-six stakeholders involved in various levels of the death reporting systems in Nepal participated in in-depth interviews and an innovative drawn surveillance system elicitation task. Results: Content analysis and social network analysis revealed large variation across the participants perceived networks, where some networks were linear pathways dominated by a single institution (police or community) with few nodes involved in data transmission, while others were complex and communicative. Network analysis demonstrated that police institutions controlled the majority of suicide information collection and reporting, whereas health and community institutions were only peripherally involved. Both health workers and policy makers reported that legal codes criminalizing suicide impaired documentation, reporting, and care provision. However, legal professionals and law review revealed that attempting suicide is not a crime punishable by incarceration. Another limitation of current reporting was the lack of attention to male suicide. Conclusions: Establishment and implementation of national suicide prevention strategies will not be possible without reliable statistics and comprehensive standardized reporting practices. The case of Nepal points to the need for collaborative reporting and accountability shared between law enforcement, administrative, and health sectors. Awareness of legal codes among health workers, in particular dispelling myths of suicide's illegality, is crucial to improve mental health services and reporting practices.

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