Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Nepal is undergoing massive changes in health programs and policy, and has had a surge of interest in mental health following the 2015 earthquakes. However, despite suicide being a leading cause of death and growing discourse about its significant burden among women, health data collection and prevention programs have yet to document and respond to these ‘preventable’ deaths. As the health system creates structures that quite literally erase suicide events and deaths from its system, the national police force has systematically documented these deaths for many years. However, police authorities investigate suicide deaths, forcing officers and families to negotiate potential causes, including murder. Thus, in the health realm, suicides disappear as they are filtered through reporting systems shaped by social, cultural, and political institutions. During 18 months of fieldwork in Nepal, I follow health officials, police officers, and policy makers through their everyday work investigating and responding to suicide related events. I triangulate these observations with the data they generate (case files, medical records, and monthly reports) and investigated how they generated, or eliminated, suicide, where it propagated, and traced it back to the families that sourced it. Looking from the margins towards centers of power, this talk explicates how varying institutional numbers can obfuscate and invalidate suffering experienced at local levels. This study provides insight about the power dynamics and diplomatic incentives for health priorities. Findings shed light on how anthropological insights can help bridge technical systems across institutions and cultures.