Skip to main content Accessibility help

Case–control study of suicide in Karachi, Pakistan

  • Murad Moosa Khan (a1), Sadia Mahmud (a2), Mehtab S. Karim (a2), Mohammad Zaman (a1) and Martin Prince (a3)...



In recent years suicide has become a major public health problem in Pakistan.


To identify major risk factors associated with suicides in Karachi, Pakistan.


A matched case–control psychological autopsy study. Interviews were conducted for 100 consecutive suicides, which were matched for age, gender and area of residence with 100 living controls.


Both univariate analysis and conditional logistic regression model results indicate that predictors of suicides in Pakistan are psychiatric disorders (especially depression), marital status (being married), unemployment, and negative and stressful life events. Only a few individuals were receiving treatment at the time of suicide. None of the victims had been in contact with a health professional in the month before suicide.


Suicide in Pakistan is strongly associated with depression, which is under-recognised and under-treated. The absence of an effective primary healthcare system in which mental health could be integrated poses unique challenges for suicide prevention in Pakistan.


Corresponding author

Dr Murad M. Khan, Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, PO Box 3500, Karachi 74800, Pakistan. Email:


Hide All

Presented in part at the XXIII World Congress of International Association of Suicide Prevention, Durban, South Africa, 12–16 September 2005.

Declaration of interest

None. Funding detailed in Acknowledgements.



Hide All
1 Bertolote, JM, Fleischmann, A. A global perspective on the epidemiology of suicide. Suicidologi 2002; 7: 68.
2 World Health Organization. Mortality Database. WHO, 2003.
3 Khan, MM. Suicide prevention and developing countries. J R Soc Med 2005; 98: 459–63.
4 Population Reference Bureau. Pakistan. Population Reference Bureau, 2006. (
5 Thompson Gale. Encyclopedia of the Nations: Pakistan. Thomson Corporation, 2006 (
6 Khan, MM, Prince, M. Beyond rates: the tragedy of suicide in Pakistan. Trop Doct 2003; 33: 67–9.
7 Khan, MM, Hyder, AA. Suicides in the developing world: case study from Pakistan. Suicide Life Threat Behav 2006; 36: 7681.
8 The Dawn newspaper. Karachi: 5800 committed suicide in nine months: report. Dawn, 23 October 2006 (
9 Husain, N, Creed, F, Tomenson, B. Depression and social stress in Pakistan. Psychol Med 2000; 30: 395402.
10 Mumford, DB, Minhas, FA, Akhtar, I, Akhter, S, Mubbashar, MH. Stress and psychiatric disorder in urban Rawalpindi: community survey. Br J Psychiatry 2000; 177: 557–62.
11 Mirza, I, Jenkins, R. Risk factors, prevalence, and treatment of anxiety and depressive disorders in Pakistan: systematic review. BMJ 2004; 328: 794–8.
12 Foster, T, Gillespie, K, McClelland, R. Mental disorders and suicide in Northern Ireland. Br J Psychiatry 1997; 170: 447–52.
13 Appleby, L, Cooper, J, Amos, T, Faragher, B. Psychological autopsy study of suicides by people aged under 35. Br J Psychiatry 1999; 175: 168–74.
14 World Health Organization. The Tenth Revision of the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD–10). WHO, 1992.
15 Paykel, E. Methodological aspects of life-events research. J Psychosom Res 1983; 27: 341–52.
16 Tyrer, P, Alexander, J. Classification of personality disorder. Br J Psychiatry 1979; 135: 163–7.
17 Saeed, A, Bashir, MZ, Khan, D, Iqbal, J, Raja, KS, Rehman, A. Epidemiology of suicide in Faisalabad. J Ayub Med Coll Abbottabad 2002; 14: 34–7.
18 Ahmed, SH, Zuberi, H. Changing pattern of suicide and parasuicide in Karachi. J Pak Med Assoc 1981; 31: 76–8.
19 Ahmed, Z, Ahmed, A, Mubeen, SM. An audit of suicide in Karachi from 1995–2001. Ann Abbasi Shaheed Hosp 2003; 8: 424–8.
20 Cheng, AT. Mental illness and suicide. A case–control study in east Taiwan. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1995; 52: 594603.
21 Cheng, ATA, Chen, THH, Chen, C-C, Jenkins, R. Psychosocial and psychiatric risk factors for suicide: case–control psychological autopsy study. Br J Psychiatry 2000; 177: 360–5.
22 Phillips, MR, Yang, G, Zhang, Y, Wang, L, Ji, H, Zhou, M. Risk factors for suicide in China: a national case–control psychological autopsy study. Lancet 2002; 360: 1728–36.
23 Vijayakumar, L, Rajkumar, S. Are risk factors for suicide universal? A case–control study in India. Acta Psychiatr Scand 1999; 99: 407–11.
24 Shoaib, S, Nadeem, MA, Khan, MZU. Causes and outcome of suicidal cases presented to a medical ward. Ann KE Med Coll 2005; 11: 30–2.
25 Eddleston, M, Sheriff, MH, Hawton, K. Deliberate self harm in Sri Lanka: an overlooked tragedy in the developing world. BMJ 1998; 317: 133–5.
26 Moscicki, EK. Gender differences in completed and attempted suicide. Ann Epidemiol 1994; 4: 152–8.
27 Qadir, F, de Silva, P, Prince, M, Khan, M. Marital satisfaction in Pakistan: a pilot investigation. Sexual Rel Ther 2005; 20: 195209.
28 Shaikh, BT, Rabbani, F. The district health system: a challenge that remains. East Med Health J 2004; 10: 208–14.
29 Rutz, W, von Knorring, L, Wålinder, J. Long-term effects of an educational program for general practitioners given by the Swedish Committee for the Prevention and Treatment of Depression. Acta Psychiatr Scand 1995; 85: 83–8.
30 Bowles, J. Suicide in Western Samoa: An Example of a Suicide Prevention Program in a Developing Country. Brill, 1995.
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Khan et al. supplementary material
Supplementary Table S1

 PDF (32 KB)
32 KB
Supplementary materials

Khan et al. supplementary material
Supplementary Material

 Unknown (562 bytes)
562 bytes


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed

Case–control study of suicide in Karachi, Pakistan

  • Murad Moosa Khan (a1), Sadia Mahmud (a2), Mehtab S. Karim (a2), Mohammad Zaman (a1) and Martin Prince (a3)...
Submit a response


Reply to letter by Drs. Mushtaq & Mushtaq

Murad M Khan, Professor of Psyhciatry
24 January 2009

I thank Drs. Mushtaq & Mushtaq for their comments. Re. their queries of marital status and age groups, 25% of the victims were engaged,divorced or widowed, while the age group of the victims were: 15-20 years,24%; 21-30 years, 41%; 31-40 years, 17%; 41-50 years, 7% and >51 years,3%. From our and other studies it appears that in Pakistan, majority of people committing suicide are young, under the age of 30 years. This is a massive loss to society and contributes to high years-of-life-lost (YLL). On the other hand suicide is rare in the elderly in Pakistan which is in contrast to the findings in the West. This may be due to the status afforded to the elderly in the family-centered Pakistani society. The elderly continue to live with family members after retirement and rarely have to fend for themselves.

I agree with the other comments made by the authors: mental illness, especially depression in under-recognised and under-treated in Pakistan; most suicide victims used violent methods such as hanging, firearms, burning and poisoning, while few used medications as a method and none of the victims were in contact with health services in the month before the suicide. While these findings have important implications for suicide prevention in Pakistan, we do not see the situation changing on the ground, as far as mental health or suicide prevention is concerned. Successive governments in Pakistan (military as well as civilian) have failed to address the basic health needs of the population, allocating less than 1% of the annual budget for health. Mental health does not have a separate budget but it is believed it is 1% of the health budget. Unfortunately what little is available is eaten up by massive corruption, mismanagement and poor governance. Until these fundamental issues are addressed the population of the country will continue to suffer from high levels of distress, many of whom will go on to kill themselves.

Declaration on interest: none

Murad M KhanDept of PsychiatryAga Khan UniversityKarachiPAKISTAN

... More

Conflict of interest: None Declared

Write a reply

Psychological Autopsy Study of Suicide in Karachi

Imran Mushtaq, Associate Specialist-Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
27 November 2008

We must congratulate Khan et al (1) for carrying out this study, a topic that, to our knowledge has not been formally studied in Pakistan. The findings are very significant Firstly, 96% of suicides victims had a diagnosable psychiatric condition with very high prevalence of depression.We know that depressive illnesses are steadily rising and WHO in 2001, haswarned that by the year 2020, depressive disorders are expected to rank asthe second leading cause of disease and disability worldwide after coronary heart disease (2). Interestingly none of the victims in the previous month had been in contact with any health professional, contrary to the pattern seen in the West.

Secondly, violent methods were used in majority of the cases depicting the seriousness of the intent, a finding that has been replicated in number of studies from Asia. However interestingly the same finding was reported earlier by Patel and Gaw (3) in their review of Studies of suicide among immigrants from the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka) who used violent methods such as hanging, burning, and poisoning.None of the suicide victim used overdose of medication, which is the most common method of attempted suicide/deliberate self harm in the West. However it should be noted that violent methods are becoming increasingly common in the West with hanging as one of the common cause of completed suicides (4,5).

Thirdly, risk factors for suicide do not differ greatly from the restof the world, as reported by earlier Taiwanese (6) and Indian (7) studies,apart from alcoholism. However one striking finding reported in this studyis that 62% of suicide victims lived in joint/extended families, which is supposed to be protective factor?

It will be useful if the authors could clarify a couple of points as results show 24% of suicide victims were married and 51% were single but status of rest of the 25% is not mentioned (widower, divorced)? As these would be considered as major life events and whether the life event was just before the suicide.Also there does not seem to be any mention of age groups among the suicidevictims? It will be an important finding to know the age group who is at greatest risk and especially if the trend differs from the west?

It will be interesting to see if the findings of useful studies like this will motivate the health commissioners in Pakistan to pay attention to the mental health needs of the people.


1. Khan MM, Mahmud S, Karim SK, Zaman M, and Prince M. Case–control study of suicide in Karachi, Pakistan. Br J Psychiatry 2008 193: 402-405

2. World Health Organization (2001) Speech.

3. Patel SP, Gaw AC. Suicide among immigrants from the Indian subcontinent: a review. Psychiatry Serv 1996; 47: 517 -21.

4. Office for National Statistics. Mortality, 1996. Cause. London: Stationery Office , 1998.

5. Mittendorfer-Rutz E, Wasserman D, Rasmussen F. Fetal and childhoodgrowth and the risk of violent and non-violent suicide attempts: a cohort study of 318,953 men.J Epidemiol Community Health. 2008 Feb; 62(2):168-73

6. Cheng AT. Mental illness and suicide. A case-control study in eastTaiwan. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1995 Jul; 52(7): 594-603.

7. Vijayakumar L, Rajkumar S. Are risk factors for suicide universal?A case-control study in India. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 1999 Jun; 99(6): 407


Imran Mushtaq, MRCPCH, MRCPsych, Associate Specialist-Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Milton Keynes SP-CAHMS, Eaglestone Centre, MiltonKeynes

Salman A Mushtaq, MRCPsych. CRHT, Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust
... More

Conflict of interest: None Declared

Write a reply


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *