Suicide in China – Divorce Lowers Risk

Last month, when my friend Jasmine’s apartment was broken into while she was home sleeping, she became a mental wreck. She was terrified and unable to sleep. Even when she left town to stay in the safety of a friend’s house, she was still unable to sleep. I asked her if she needed some sleeping pills and she told me “sleeping pills are illegal in China. The government is afraid we will kill ourselves with them.” And, it’s true. You cannot buy sleeping pills in China. However, you can bring them into China with you (so, if you have trouble sleeping like I do, when you come to China be sure to bring extra boxes of sleeping pills). But for people like Jasmine who need temporary relief from stress or other factors affecting their sleep, there is little they can do, except maybe knocking back a nightcap or two.

But in spite of this restriction on sleeping pills, China has the highest rate of suicides among women in the world. It is also the leading cause of death for Chinese women age 15-34. Why is this?

In the West, suicide is often cited as “as cry for help.” The person might not actually want to die, but they don’t know how to get people to take their despair seriously. Women are many times “rescued” from their suicide attempt when they take pills because the pills don’t kill immediately. If a family member finds them in time, the victim can sometimes be revived. But without the option of taking pills in China, many women are not given the opportunity to “cry for help.” The attempts women make in China to kill themselves are often permanent. In the cities, it is very common for women to jump from tall buildings, and in the countryside women often use a deadly pesticide.

Why do women in China kill themselves? From a young age, women are put under an enormous amount of stress. For very young women (and also young men) the pressure to excel at school results in many deaths. The week of the dreaded gaokao is often coupled with stories of suicide attempts. But as women get older, stress, depression, pressure, and unhappiness in their married life drives many to suicide. I’ve written before on how China does not protect women who wish for divorce. They often end up with no financial support, can lose custody of their children, end up abandoned by their own families, and most are never able to remarry. However, a new study finds that a higher divorce rate actually leads to lower suicide rates. For many women trapped in a loveless or abusive marriage, death may seem to be the only way out. But if divorce was more accepted and available, women might have an option to killing themselves.

Some food for thought for the day.