CDC fears “suicide contagion” in Bhutanese refugee population

Here is yet one more story on the high rate of suicide in the Bhutanese refugee population in the US.  This time from New Hampshire via WBUR (Boston’s NPR station).  Hat tip ‘pungentpeppers.’

This New Hampshire woman’s father hanged himself on Thanksgiving day.  He was 73.

We only noted a link to the New Hampshire suicides in a post in January where we learned some refugees remaining in the camps were upset at the UN for splitting up families.  You might want to revisit that post because it gives some background as to how we have resettled 70,000 Bhutanese since 2007.   The number in the WBUR story is wrong.

The interview (read about the New Hampshire case) mentions the disappointment some refugees have when the US does not meet their expectations and with the Bhutanese it is pointed out that their culture does not have the same taboos about suicide as some other ethnic groups, or most Americans.

So, as the numbers grow, there is some speculation that “suicide contagion” could set in.


The numbers trouble the Centers for Disease Control, which began investigating the deaths a few years ago. By early 2012, it had 16 cases to look at from a three-year period. The CDC calculated a suicide rate higher than the national and global average, and it hasn’t changed since then.

SHARMILA SHETTY: The Bhutanese and I think in general just that part of the world, the perspective on suicide is very different from I think a lot of other populations and ethnicities.

LESSARD (interviewer): Dr. Sharmila Shetty was a lead investigator on the CDC report. She says the Hindu and Buddhist cultures don’t have strict taboos against suicide as, say, Muslim or Western cultures do. But beyond that, Shetty says the causes can be myriad and frustratingly unknowable.


SHETTY: There is this phenomenon called suicide contagion.

LESSARD: Shetty explains that if you know someone who ends his or her life, or you hear about it, you are more likely to do it yourself. That’s why she says it’s best to address the problem proactively. Following the CDC’s initial report, the national Office of Refugee Resettlement put a suicide hotline number on its front webpage.

Sounds good, but I wonder how many refugees call Washington if they are thinking about suicide?  Would you?

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