On 12 September 2018, an 18-year-old student of IIT Guwahati was found dead in her hostel room. She had committed suicide. She explained the reason in her suicide note stating – ‘Engineering Sucks’. On September 11, 2018, an AIIMS Jodhpur nursing student allegedly killed herself. Though no suicide note was found, investigation pointed to the fact that she had committed suicide for being ignored by a friend. On 27 August 2018, a school student in Agartala tried to commit suicide by jumping off the terrace of the school building. Fortunately, the student did not die, but this incident led to the suspension of the principal & two assistant teachers. On 30 June 2018, newspapers in Rohtak were flooded with the news of a 21-year-old student of Maharishi Dayananda University having committed suicide. In her suicide note, she explained that she was unable to cope with consistently securing low marks despite working very hard.
The list of incidents like these is endless. If statistics from news reports are to be believed, Indian students’ suicide has taken the shape of an epidemic – so much so that every 24 hours approximately 26 students are committing suicides for different reasons. As many as 26,000 young Indians have committed suicide in the past 3 years. The scenario is indeed alarming, but a bigger question arises – is the mental health of ‘young’ India in such a dire state that it is putting our future at risk?
The stress of exams & results may be the leading cause behind such an alarming rate of student suicide in India. However, the story does not end here! There are more complicated reasons behind the mental illness, something that is plaguing students all over the world including India.
Disconnect with Western Education: The Indian students today are no less than guinea pigs in the hands of the authorities. With the change of power in administration, educational norms are changing. On one side, syllabi are being turned around & on the other, colleges are gaining autonomy with the blink of an eye. But these changes are everything but uniform. In the want to keep up with Western educational notions, we are forgetting that our own system is rooted in the principals the English left behind in 1947. The pressure of this ‘balance-on-two-boats’ mechanism is being levied on the mental health of the youth.
Failure: According to NCRB, in 2014, failure in examinations accounted for approximately 30% of suicides among Indian students.
Rigid Syllabus: Statistics show that students in technical streams of education or professional courses are more prone to commit suicide. Many students are forced to take up engineering or similar careers due to parental or societal pressure. In case of other streams too, experts often question the validity of age-old syllabus or teaching patterns prevailing in the Indian education system today.
Inflated Expectations: Parental pressure is a huge determiner of the qualification graph of an Indian student. Moreover, a student who performs well in school has the added responsibility of maintaining his or her education track record in college as well. This leads to the extreme stress of performing well in academics. Also bagging a good job is a significant anxiety-factor among the youth.
Communication Gap: Students may fail to express themselves openly in front of their guardians as well as mentors. If the parents or college authorities make it a point to ask students from time to time if they are facing any problem, communication gaps can be met.
Unhealthy Lifestyle: Psychologists believe that an unhealthy lifestyle is a crucial contributor to the loss of mental sanity among students these days. Factors like uneven sleeping patterns, addiction to the virtual reality of social media, lousy eating & drinking habits contribute to depression among the youth.
Brittle Mental Immunity: Mental health experts believe that an unbalanced mind is not always the reason behind these suicides. Indian students suffer from various kinds of stress in their own realm. Peer pressure, inability to perform or a significant setback lessens the ability to cope up with or digest failures. Pressured by multiple societal expectations Students build a wall around themselves. A single crack in this wall may trigger suicidal emotions and complete despair. This also explains the high rate of mental morbidity among Indian students – 10.6% according to the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16.
Suicide is not an easily preventable phenomenon as it deals with complex internal emotions & external stimuli which are often not controllable. But the government, college & school authorities, as well as parents & guardians, need to do their bit to reduce stressors among students. Some ways in which the situation can be bettered for the student:
District Mental Health Programmes taking place in the country in the present times should focus on student suicides. Life-skill training being given to school & college teachers will help them identify students on the tipping point.
Normalise the discussion on mental health: Just as sex-education, schools & colleges should focus on creating a unique platform to deal with mental health. Forming a counselling wing for students, and having a professional councillor around might encourage students to come out and seek professional help. Regular workshops on mental health will increase awareness among students to understand that it is ok to feel pressured & seeking help is normal.
Students should contemplate inculcating healthy lifestyle choices. They should experiment with exercise, yoga & meditation, whatever it takes to deal with their anxiety productively. Like physical health, maintaining mental health is also essential.
Parents & teachers should foster an environment of encouraging discussion. Two-way communication is the key to solving many mental health issues. Parents need to make their children understand that an exam or some marks on the report card do not determine their life’s course.
Bullying or ragging lead to stress & many a time the humiliation leads to suicide. Ragging is a common thing among Indian students thus the college authorities need to be very strict regarding controlling this phenomenon.
Japan has coined a new term – Karoshi. The term refers to death or suicide that comes from stress due to overwork. With 53% of students suffering from depression in India, soon India may have come up with a term for suicide due to over the top pressure of studies. To stop this from becoming a reality in India, educational institutions need to chip in & make an effort to keep students stress-free. Kudos to colleges like IIT Kharagpur which switches off its power supply for one hour daily to give students the opportunity to interact with & talk to each other.