According to the latest data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 8,935 (that is 6.7%) of all suicides in India are committed by students. Reports suggest, that this number translates to roughly one student suicide per hour.
It is said that academic stress is the major reason for suicides among students, and this pressure continues on beyond college. As the World Mental Health Day is marked, today October 10th with a focus on suicide prevention, psychiatrists and other people working in the field of mental health and wellbeing, are addressing this disturbing situation and assessing the initiatives aimed at changing it.
Dr Kersi Chavada, former president of the Bombay Psychiatric Society who works extensively with children, said this tendency is usually related to a genetic predisposition, along with stress issues that can push a person over the edge.
“The usual stressors include academic pressure, depressive and other psychological disorders, relationship problems, alcohol and substance abuse, long-standing illnesses, and belonging to the LGBTQ community. There seems to be a higher incidence among those groups of individuals who have a family history of suicide attempts,” he said.
Dr Sagar Mundada, another psychiatrist, highlighted the problems youngsters approached them with. Besides academic pressures, he said, the tricky areas include pressure from peers, family or at times relationship issues which cause them stress.
“The number of suicides has gone up because the frustration threshold among the country’s youth has gone down. Today, millennials are used to getting everything instantaneously. Whether it is food of their choice, or information through apps and internet. Moreover, in some cases where she or he is the only child, parents give their undivided attention trying to make life easier. All this has reduced the frustration threshold, often making these students draw extreme conclusions. So, for example, if someone does not have good marks, or does not have a girlfriend or boyfriend, they think of their life as a failure,” he said.
In a bid to help such youngsters, Mundada said that they hold preventive sessions. “We use something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which helps to rectify the faulty thought process. The sessions build emotional resilience among the young people and help them to take failure in their stride. There are even counselling sessions for parents, which help them strike a balance between being loving, but at the same time not giving children everything on a plate.”
“There is an attempt to spread knowledge to ensure that teachers, principals, students and parents look out for each other and have a scientific idea of what psychological issues are all about. We hold seminars and workshops across cities, often requested by college and school authorities, to have continued education about the current issues faced by students,” Mundada said.
But the way forward, he said, is for people to communicate what they are feeling and seek treatment for psychological disorders like depression, without feeling a sense of inadequacy or shame.
“It basically means removing the stigma around having a psychological problem. It is imperative for all of us to keep an eye open for a change in our friends’ demeanour and to verbalise our concern and insist on proper treatment by a psychiatrist,” he said.
Suicide Prevention Helplines
To reduce the number of suicides in India, helplines, designed for those in distress have been established. Samaritans Mumbai (SM), one such helpline provides emotional support for those who are stressed, distressed, depressed, or suicidal and has been raising awareness with a vision to decrease the suicide rate.
SM conducted research in colleges to understand students’ issues.
“Based on answers from 750 students, we found that 65% of them were facing anxiety. When further questions were asked, we realised that the majority of these students were anxious about their future, mainly because of the academic or the political atmosphere.
“They were uncertain about their position and status on the job market. With their families adding to the burden of their expectations of success, students tend to feel pressurised,” said Manohar Rangnekar, Assistant Director, Samaritans Mumbai. They have been actively working in the field of mental health and striving to support those in need since 1968.
The Burden of Suicides
The world’s second most populous country, India has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. Reports suggest that India accounts for over a third of global suicides among women each year. A survey by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said about 4 in 10 students in India have experienced bouts of depression in the recent years.
Only a few career choices are considered prestigious and parents often push their offspring to enrol in an academic field that she or he may not be interested in. With a high number of aspirants vying for the few places in ‘esteemed’ institutions, competition is becoming more intense. It is not uncommon to find students studying for over 12 hours to pass entrance exams for training for careers which have been chosen by their families.