Suicide cases rising among Bhutanese refugees in US: report

the News Desk in Kathmandu/The Kathmandu Post
Asia News Network

Kathmandu (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - There have been 16 cases of suicide among Bhutanese refugees residing in the US as of February 2012, in what is seen as a rising trend, according to a report.

The report commissioned by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has shown an increasing rate of suicide among the refugees. It noted that the Bhutanese resettlement process coincided with the global financial recession, 'making the typical refugee problem of unemployment especially bad.'

The global suicide rate per 100,000 people - how suicide rates are calculated - is 16, and the rate for the general US population is 12.4, says the report. The Bhutanese suicide rate is much higher - 20.3 among US-resettled ones and 20.7 in the refugee camp population in Nepal.

A handful of suicide cases were reported among other refugee groups, but nothing like the number among the Bhutanese, Danielle Preiss, an American journalist and master's student, wrote for the Atlantic magazine's April 13 edition.

The rate of depression among the Bhutanese refugees surveyed was 21 per cent, nearly three times that of the general US population (6.7 per cent). In addition to depression, risk factors for suicide included not being the family's provider, feelings of limited social support, and family conflict. Post-migration difficulties that the victims faced offer clues about their possible motivations, Preiss wrote. Most are unable to communicate with their host communities, while many were also plagued by worries about the family back home and the difficulty of maintaining cultural and religious traditions, she added.

"Most of the victims were unemployed, while a few had previous mental health diagnoses and mental health conditions were probably significantly under-diagnosed in the camps where medical care was basic at best," said Preiss.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) had also noticed a similar trend among the refugees in the camps in Nepal.

IOM documented 67 suicides and 64 attempts between 2004 and 2010. The number was high, but without a statistical comparison, it was hard to know how bad the problem was, IOM said.

"Money, money, money," Som Nath Subedi offers as an explanation, according to Preiss' article. Subedi, a Bhutanese case manager in Portland, Oregon and one of the first community leaders to highlight the suicides, says the intense poverty of the Bhutanese refugee population may be a factor.

"Iraqis, when they get here, they start looking for a house or a car," he says. "We start looking for a job, how to pay rent, how to get bills paid," Preiss quoted Subedi as saying.

In the late 1980s, ethnic Nepalis were forcibly removed from Bhutan and they travelled to Eastern Nepal, where camps were eventually established. Many were in the camps nearly 20 years until resettlement to third countries - mainly the US - began in 2008.