Student record

India must stop sleepwalking into student suicide crisis

A study published by Lancet indicates that India has one of the highest suicide rates on the planet, with a significant proportion between 15 and 29 years old.

Representative image. PTI

Earlier this month, in an unfortunate event, a young NEET aspirant took his own life. Recent news on student suicide does not stop there. Many places including Telangana, Maharashtra, Kochi, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha and others reported student suicides in the previous week. The student suicide crisis in India has been a problem for a few years now. However, death by suicide in the context of college students is emerging as a major public health crisis in its own right, as it has become the leading cause of death among them.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI), 2020, over 12,500 students died by suicide in the country in 2020 at a rate of over 34 per day. In addition, a study published by Lancet said India has one of the highest suicide rates on the planet, with a significant proportion between the ages of 15 and 29. There can be no greater wake-up call for all school authorities, parents and education policy makers. While farmer suicides have been the subject of much regional and national conversation, student suicides are generally swept under the rug despite their higher numbers. It is time we tackled the grave crisis and took positive action to prevent these deaths.

Gaps in India’s Data Collection Framework

The main challenge facing the country in terms of addressing the student suicide crisis is the lack of comprehensive data on several groups. Currently, the NCRB is the only comprehensive and encyclopedic annual data source on all suicides in India. There is unavailability of time-limited data; no statistics on weekly or monthly suicide rates. For this reason, there is no described correlation for what actually leads to suicide in most students and when. Apart from this, what makes data ineffective for policy-making in India is the fact that there are inter-state variations in the reliability and validity of data due to different practices and processes followed. potential for under-reporting of cases in first information reports (FIRs). ).

Why are there so many suicide cases in India?

The issue of student suicides in India is multidimensional and multifactorial. Many socio-economic factors come into play. With the limited data we have, we can infer that more than half of student suicides in India are not related to mental health issues, which is the narrative most popular in the West. However, depression and mental health issues in India remain largely undiagnosed due to the social stigma attached to it and hence the rate of correlation between the two is still undetected. Exam failure is one of the most prominent and repetitive reasons given for student suicide in India. The pressure of exams drives millions of students to despair every year. Although there are a plethora of opportunities for students to explore, most of the time their world oscillates between success and failure. Their identities are often simply tied to their grade sheet. They are often pressured by school authorities and parents at home to follow tight study schedules, which ultimately leaves them feeling depressed and helpless.

While getting good grades is a stress many face, school is also an escape for many students. Many adolescents experience sexual, verbal or physical abuse at home. Additionally, many women are pressured to marry young or asked to help with household chores, leading to school dropout. The pandemic, which has brought many other challenges, has also forced students to stay home for a very long time, making them vulnerable to all these forms of abuse.

Moreover, in recent times, students have also been exposed to online abuse and gossip. According to a recent assessment by the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), India was the source of at least 25,000 daily downloads of photographs depicting child sexual abuse. All of these factors combined bombard students with stress from all sides.

How can India solve the problem?

As in most parts of the world, student suicides in India are preventable. They are most often affected by the social and cultural environment. In its current actions, we are focusing on health services to save lives after a student attempted suicide, but that does not help prevent them in the first place. We need to look at the larger structural issues and focus on the blind spots.

Millions of students across the country are struggling with academic distress. Fear of failing in the unforgiving educational environment, due to lack of social responsibility, students find it easier to end their lives. To this is now added this injected need to be competent in all areas to be fit for the job market. It is time to review the functioning of our educational institutions, structures and systems. Many leading educational institutions have taken measures such as removing ceiling fans that can support over 40 kilograms of weight. It’s as if they don’t care about deaths but only about deaths in their institutions. With such an attitude, we are on the wrong track.

In order to have a broader interest in the country and the young people, it is necessary to make the right interventions to maintain an inclusive and growing environment for all students. Interventions are needed to understand the verbal and non-verbal cues people give before committing suicide. Helpline volunteers, teachers, school authorities, healthcare professionals and, at best, even parents need to be trained to be able to spot the warning signs and have open conversations. with young people. India currently has no suicide prevention policy and lacks infrastructure, monetary investment and even research. These trained guardians can help save thousands of lives.

It is sad to see that the constant pressure to be academically brilliant is also depicted commercially in several advertisements. As the number of hot drink milk powder companies show that students will be able to be the best after having the. This emotional pressure to involve mothers as well adds to the already high stress of being good among peers. Positive actions are required from all sides: government, private companies and educational institutions to prevent further suicides.

Evidence-based interventions targeted to the most vulnerable population can not only save lives, but also provide students with a safer, more secure, and more holistic environment to grow.

The author is assistant program manager at Takshashila Institution. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the position of this publication.

A collection of suicide prevention hotline numbers is available here. Please contact us if you or someone you know needs help. The India-wide helpline number is: 022-27546669.

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