Distressing increase in suicides in Điện Biên

Update: October, 20/2016 - 08:00
Lá ngón, the fatal plant involved in nearly half of all suicide cases in Điện Biên since 2011. Photo Biên phòng newspaper
Viet Nam News

ĐIỆN BIÊN – The increasing number of suicides in Điện Biên over the last few years has raised alarms among the community in the remote mountainous province.

A report from local police recorded a total of 405 suicide attempts with 365 people dieing since 2011 through the end of June 2016. The number increased year by year, and at a concerning rate: the number of people killing themselves last year jumped almost threefold to 94 from just 32 in 2011.

Municipal Criminal Police Division Deputy Chief, Senior Lieutenant Colonel Nguyễn Văn Hiên told Điện Biên newspaper that the suicides happened for various reasons, calling some of them minor. They could be due to low scores at school, spouses’ badmouthing each other or jealousy in romantic affairs.

Vừ A So from the Noong U Commune in Điện Biên Đông District, about 52km to the southeast of the province capital Điện Biên Phủ city, told of how his nephew barely escaped death after eating the poisonous lá ngón, nicknamed the ‘heartbreak grass’.

“When with friends at his house, my nephew’s wife said that he was not a “decent man” in front of the guests. He was so embarrassed and went into the forest to take lá ngón to die”, So said.

His wife discovered him in time to save her husband, but attempted suicides for reasons like this were not rare in Noong U where lá ngón has become the way out for troubled locals.

In the neighbouring commune of Suối Lư, a junior high school girl took her own life a few months ago after being scolded by her father for breaking her mobile phone. Her parents found her body inside the adjacent forest, dead after ingesting lá ngón.

Lá ngón, rampant in the northern mountainous regions, is the most poisonous plant in Việt Nam as only three leaves are enough to kill a healthy man in less than an hour. The alkaloids in the plant cause respiratory failure and circulatory collapse.

The police report showed that lá ngón appeared in 189 suicide cases in Điện Biên since 2011, or nearly half of the total. Điện Biên Đông District surfaced as the capital of lá ngón suicide attempts, accounting for nearly 98 per cent of the cases with 185 suicide attempts.

Over the first eight months of 2016, the district reported 73 cases with 29 people killed by the plant, double the number from the same period last year.

The district health centre deputy director Cao Thị Lý said that many who attempted suicide went into the forest or to fields to eat the grass, making them hard to be found.

“When they were discovered and delivered to the health centre or the communal health stations, it was already too late,” she said. “Most were already dead”.

Noong U People’s Committee Chairman Cứ A Chá said that suicide by lá ngón were common in ethnic minority communities in the area, disproportionately among Mông people.

Chá believed the reasons for such high a rate of suicide law in poverty, low levels of education and what he called an attitude of undervaluing one’s own life.

However, questions regarding why Mông people had such high rates of suicide – about 85 per cent of suicide attempts in Điện Biên were carried out by Mông locals, according to the police report –compared to a dozen other ethnicities living in similar conditions, remained unanswered. There is yet to be any thorough research into the issue in the region.

To tackle the issue, many proposed destroying all lá ngón plants in the area in the short-term, yet Lý believed that the only solution was psychological support for locals. – VNS