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Student suicides : concern and solutions

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As reported in FactChecker, and a reply in the Lok Sabha by HG Ahir, Minister of State for Home Affairs, on January 2, 2018, 9,474 students committed suicide in 2016 – or a student suicide occurred every 55 minutes. The same story reports that student suicides have increased 52% from a suicide every 84 minutes in 2007 to the current rate. The article will look at the concern, and the cure to counter the menace.

Students are assets of the country, and create the demographic dividend of the future. A skilled, technically sound, educated, aware, and awakened youth becomes the harbinger for the future prosperity of the nation. If a nation is to achieve the realm of success then it cannot afford to see them falling to suicidal tendencies. It, therefore, becomes imperative to see how this delinquent issue can be managed in the future.

To start with, talk of mental depression need no longer be a taboo. Rather, information can be disseminated by creating awareness among various stakeholders like parents, school students, etc through innovative mediums like nukkad naatak (street plays), drama, short films, advertisements on annual gathering in schools like Sports Meet, Annual Function, etc.

One can also include a topic in the school curriculum about increasing suicidal tendencies in students, how it is morally wrong, a cowardly step, and how talking and sharing problems with parents, teachers, and friends can help in coming out of depression. When students write a quotation in their notebooks they can be told to write meaningful sentences like the one by Matshona Dhliwayo which says, “The past is your teacher. The present is your opportunity. The future is your reward.

Also, at regular intervals, and especially when a student suicide takes place in school, schools can show 5-minute documentaries showcasing case studies of people who emerged successful after initially having suicidal thoughts. The list of such personalities is long, including Martin Luther King Jr. Further workshops and conferences can be organized especially in the aftermath of a tragedy. Such preventive methods will go a long way in solving this hazard.

Factchecker notes that failure in examinations led to 2,413 suicides by students in 2016 – or seven every day –accounting for 25% of student suicides. Suicide due to examination failure needs concerted efforts from not merely the students but also the teachers and parents. Students need to be taught that the first step to solve a problem is knowing that there exists one, and the examination system is a firm reminder that there exists a problem which is solvable. Bernard Branson said that “Rejection is an opportunity for your selection” and after a student fails, a counselling session can be arranged by the school for students, which needs to be mandatorily attended by parents and teachers – in the aftermath of which a re-examination provision could be adopted.

Teachers also need to play their part and their motive should transform from merely imparting knowledge to rekindling the flame within every student. Once a student starts liking learning, he is destined to succeed.

Parents also need to play their part by analysing, closely, the behaviour of their child and their likes, dislikes, opinions etc that they form over the years. Gandhiji said, “Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.” All these parameters are closely linked to the upbringing of the child, where parents play a pivotal part. A deeper interaction between children and parents is the need of the hour.

India also needs some institutional changes. A report in The Indian Express stated that India has only 0.3 psychiatrists compared to China’s 1.7, 0.17 nurses, and 0.05 psychologists for every 100,000 people (World Health Organization’s Mental Health Atlas 2011). Psychiatry is taught in fewer than 300 medical colleges at the undergraduate level and in 184 at the postgraduate level. There are only 502 seats in MD Psychiatry. There are no PhD courses in psychiatry and a little over 100 seats in diploma courses.

Hence, effective and affordable counselling centres should be opened up across the country, especially in states with high prevalence of student suicides. For example, Maharashtra reported the most student suicides (1350) in 2016, followed by West Bengal (1,147) and Tamil Nadu (981). Priority thereby needs to be established in the same order.

And not just student suicides – in holistic terms India is amongst the nations with the highest number of suicides, as 1,31,666 Indians committed suicide in 2014 which grew to 1,33,623 suicides in 2015. Several reports indicate that between 2% and 5% of Indians are said to be suffering from mental illnesses — in a country of 125 crores, that would be between 2.5 crore and 6.25 crore people, and this is a large number to which we need to draw attention.

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