Bhutanese Refugees Are Killing Themselves at an Astonishing Rate!

Photo By lpk90901
A compelling article has just come out in the Atlantic regarding the tragically high suicide rate among Bhutanese-Nepali refugees.  I've been saying for a few years that this group has a higher suicide rate than most.  Now here are the hard facts:

Bhutanese Refugees Are Killing Themselves at an Astonishing Rate 
- Danielle Preiss - The Atlantic:
The study team confirmed the government's suspicions; the problem was endemic. The global suicide rate per 100,000 people--how suicide rates are calculated--is 16, and the rate for the general U.S. population is 12.4. The Bhutanese rate is much higher: 20.3 among U.S. resettled refugees and 20.7 among the refugee camp population. A handful of suicides were reported among other refugee groups during the same period as the CDC study, but nothing like the number among the Bhutanese.

Of course, the next question will be "WHY?" Of course, like most refugee groups, the Bhutanese struggle with poverty, depression, culture shock, and other issues.  However, these are not unique circumstances for them.  Why don't Somalis or Karen commit suicide as frequently?  Personally, I have noticed that suicide is especially prominent in the cultural narrative of the Bhutanese.  One has only to watch their films to see how frequently suicide is a theme.  Moreover, those who commit suicide in Nepali language films are not usually seen as having done something wrong.  Rather, they are tragic victims and even sometimes are viewed as somewhat courageous.  Outside of films, if you manage to observe any of the dialogue between young Bhutanese people (especially when romance is involved), you will see suicidal themes there as well.  A boy rejected by the girl he loves will very often threaten to kill himself.  A wife scolded by her husband might do the same.  The bottom line is that in the prevailing cultural narrative, suicide is an option. 

The Atlantic article brushes up against a key insight:

"Burmese, Somali and Iraqi refugees (the other three groups that top the list for recent refugee arrivals) also entered the U.S. during the downturn. These groups may have been protected by what Shetty describes as different 'cultural perspectives' on suicide. Of these groups, most are Muslim [Burmese refugees are a mix of Christian, Muslim, and Buddhist], except the mainly Hindu Bhutanese.  Though both Shetty and Subedi were careful to avoid saying suicide is accepted by Bhutanese culture or Hindu religion, Subedi explains it is tolerated more. 'For Bhutanese, suicide by hanging is a solution,' he says, explaining that for Somali refugees, Islamic prohibitions are effective deterrents. Hinduism is more ambiguous on the subject."

If you are one who cares for the Bhutanese refugee community in your city, please take a look at the linked article above and give it careful thought.  Pray for the Bhutanese people to recognize the sacredness and preciousness of life.  Pray that they will reject the idea that suicide is a valid response to life's problems.   Grace and Truth must become incarnated in every Bhutanese-Nepali community for this trend to be reversed.


  1. Anonymous11:50 AM

    I encounter at least three to five Bhutanese Refugees daily, who are either having anxiety, PTSD or openly expressing suicidal thoughts in US.

    1. Thank you for your feedback. We must support one another in facing this crisis.

  2. This article seems realistic; there are very reliable cautions about the Bhutanese Refugees in the United States.
    The reason provided by Mr. Subedi is all baseless. I can strongly say that religion has very little to do with the deteriorating situations of the resettled refugees. It is just one of the reasons for radical Hindu to take part the suicide.
    These are the reason I have found in my service and experience to the resettled Bhutanese Refugees:
    1. Due to decade's long stay in the refugee camps in Nepal with low or deficient diet, the health condition has gone very down. Vitamin B12 deficiency, BP, diabetes, Cholesterol, and cancers are some of the diseases compelling for the refugees to be in anxiety.
    2. Decades long stay in the refugee camp with uncertainties and hopelessness has developed a stereotyped habit of feelings to the Refugees.
    3. The traditional frame of life style and frame of references with communication barriers have put the refugees in traumatic situations.
    4. Locals cultural interference and religious encroachment have brought lot of frustrations to the resettled refugee communities from Bhutan.
    5. Cultural diversity and inability to fit into the host cultures have developed a kind of inferiority complex among the Bhutanese refugees.
    6. A wide generation gap has brought sense of too much to understand for the refugees. Legalities, traffic bustle, too much of freedom against the set frame of expectations.
    7. Wide gaps with the host cultures, life styles, living standards have brought negative feelings, indecency and self segregation.
    8. Face saving nature of the community- no one is ready to talk personal problems, sex, chaos, domestic violence and abuses, rather they tolerate and invite more frustration, distress and anxiety and that compels them to generate suicidal thought which they keep for themselves and end up hanging and they go restless for weeks and months.
    9. Committed or radical Hindu refugees have been compelled to feel as if they don't have any religious rights, freed of practices and limited religious and cultural accessibility in the resettled land is one of the reason of frustration. This could be the zest of Mr. Subedi in my understanding.
    10. Refugees limited knowledge of complex health care systems, no proper arrangement for bridging the communication gaps, mere use of telephone interpreters is adding the frustration because Bhutanese refugees don't trust the invisible person and keep lying the problem.
    11. The frustration, anxiety and depression is seen equally with the Christian Bhutanese Refugees, and there several long time Christian committed suicides. This tales that Mr. Subedi is false or just feeble points of minor analogy.
    I would seek further research based output rather than hollow opinions from the so called individuals from the community.
    The following can improve the overall situation of refugees 9. Community Church and Community Temple doesn't seem reliable for now, but they are the big part of the mechanisms to settle the restlessness of the resettled Bhutanese Community.
    10. Pay special attention while selecting the refugee support assistants, case workers, and other resources individuals because there are some denounced figures in the community, who are more bias and selfish. Community tries to repel them and they are with the agency and that is a chaos in the community may lead the community to the commotion in the long run.

    Continue reading at

    Bhola Siwakoti
    Kansas Bhutanese Community FOund

    1. Puranaghare jee,

      Hats off for your constructive comments. You have presented the truth. Subedi's idea does not make sense!

    2. Bholaji, namaskar!

      I came recently from Kansas City and am sorry I didn't get a chance to meet you. You have raised a number of critical points that lend to the pressure on the Bhutanese-Nepali Refugees. I would argue that most other refugee groups could create very similar lists of the pressures that they face.

      The point that is on my mind is especially what is unique about the Bhutanese that they resort to suicide as a such a higher rate. If Burmese, for example, experience many of the same struggles, why do they not commit suicide at the same rate? You are right on target to call for more formal research on this. I join you in this call!

      I would not argue that this is a strictly religious matter. So I am in agreement with you on that. That is why I point instead to what I call the cultural narrative. Certainly, there are many streams of Hinduism that reject suicide strongly. In particular, the law of "ahimsa" (non-violence) could be applied here. Though my observation is that Bhutanese Hindus are not very familiar with "ahimsa". Other streams and especially in folk-hinduism there is less clarity. I would also argue that the form of Christianity that is most common among the Bhutanese is also somewhat ambiguous on the matter.

      So, I hope you hear my agreement with you. We do well to look more deeply than simply at the level of religious affiliation. This seems to have more to do with worldview. On this matter, we would benefit by joining forces from different religious groups to have a single voice - "Our lives are gifts from God, they are sacred. They should not be destroyed."

      I am happy that the Bhutanese community in Kansas has a strong leader such as yourself. God bless you as you continue to serve!

  3. I never realized... Thanks for posting this. This is horrible. We must pray to fight this.