Public suicide has become a daily topic of discussion in Iranian newspapers and news sites. Jumping from a pedestrian bridge, throwing oneself in front of a train, self-immolation, jumping from a residential building/dormitory, hanging oneself in a school restroom or yard are common methods of suicide in Iran. Some commit suicide in the presence of people while others do not, but all take place in public areas. This means that people who commit suicide want the public to know what they have done.
The number of suicides in Iran in the spring of 2020 increased by 23 percent compared to 2019. Suicide rates have increased by 60 percent in the four-year period from 2015 to 2019 and the suicide rate in the country has increased by 15 percent every year. The methods of suicide are becoming more horrible and frightening, and they have been observed in different parts of the country. Here are three important questions: what do we know and what do we not know about Iran’s growing suicide rate? What are the main socio-economic factors contributing to suicide in the country? And what is the government’s policy with regard to this issue?
In recent years, two cross-sectional reports of suicide have been published. According to a report by the Forensic Medicine Organization, from the winter of 2009 to the winter of 2010 the bodies of 3,513 people who allegedly committed suicide were referred to forensic medicine centers in Iran (an average of 10 people per day). According to another report, 111 children committed suicide in Iran between 2002 and 2004. These children were aged between 8 and 13 years old and had intentionally poisoned themselves. Fifty-nine of these children were boys and 52 were girls.
Suicide has been on the rise in Iran over the past four decades. Iran was among the countries with the lowest suicide rate in the 1980s. The suicide rate rose from 1.3 per 100,000 population in 1984 to 6.0 per 100,000 in 2004. This number rose to 6.23 per 100,000 in 2018. In 2015, the suicide rate was 94 per 100,000, which reached 125.24 per 100,000 in 2018. In addition, in some provinces the suicide rate has exceeded the warning level for years and has reached the bracket of countries with high suicide rates. The highest increase in suicides was reported in the population aged between 25 to 34 years old. According to some statistics, suicide attempts (about 100,000 in 2018) have exceeded actual suicides by 20 times.
We know that suicides in Iran have increased in recent years (from about 3,649 in 2010 to about 4,992 in 2017). However, specific details related to age, gender, occupation, residence, and family status have not been released. We know that the suicide rate of married persons has increased compared to single people, the age of suicide has decreased, collective suicides have arisen as a new phenomenon (like the suicides of three sisters in Tehran) and the percentage of rural people committing suicide has risen from about 20 percent in 2012 to about 30 percent in 2015.
Suicide in Iran is also associated with a variety of social, cultural, and political factors such as unemployment, poverty, oppression, and social pressure, as well as psychological factors (depression, anxiety). According to a study that covers Iran from 1981 to 2007, the mean age of suicide attempters was 25-years-old; on average 41.8 percent were male, 50.5 percent were single, and 70.0 percent were from urban areas. Most were unemployed: 54.2 percent on average were housewives, 24.5 percent were students, and 21 percent were unemployed men. Medical history showed that 16.2 percent had a history of disability and 42 percent had a history of psychological disorders.
Public suicide communicates specific messages such as despair, fear of being forgotten, and protests against injustice. I do not call these “reasons” for suicide because you cannot ascertain the reasons without a detailed conversation with the person who commits suicide, and this is impossible in cases where the person has passed away.
Other than the above-mentioned infrequent reports, we do not have enough information to comprehensively understand why people commit suicide in Iran. For example, we do not know how many teenagers attempt suicide per year and how this number has changed over the years. There is no national center to collect suicide-related information and post it on a yearly basis.
The Iranian government does not believe it has the responsibility to make suicide-related information public. In 2015, a report on social issues was presented to the leader of the Islamic Republic, one section of which must have been on suicide. But even senior officials, independent experts, and university professors have been kept in the dark regarding the content of this report. The Iranian government’s policy is to collect statistics and sweep them under the carpet, even though public funds and centers are used to collate such data.