The ‘examination months’ of March, April and May are particularly stressful periods in the calendar year of every student. It is even more so for students deciding on colleges and making future decisions about their educational or professional life. But the gravity and intensity of this intense pressure are often understated. Most parents, teachers and relatives alike often dismiss it as a part and parcel of every student’s life. But the reality is very different and often critical for many students. The recent episodes of suicides in the ‘IIT-JEE Coaching Hub’, Kota, Rajasthan are bleak examples of the reality of the mental health of students in India.
This premise might lead you to believe that these episodes of suicides are confined to students who are pressured by the society, and often their own ambitions to achieve the seemingly impossible. But the dire state of India’s mental health discourse encompasses not only students, but also indebted farmers, underpaid policemen, abused men and women, and vulnerable minorities and even the overlooked Indian middle-class and upper-middle-class professionals. To state it simply, mental health issues do not pick and choose who to cripple, and, as a result, every possible group in India has to face its unforgiving wrath.
An article in The Huffington Post gave a statistic that at least 5% of all people in India suffer from some form of detectable psychological illness. Even though it may seem like a small estimate, the number of people suffering is just too large. The scale of India’s population (estimated at over 1.25 billion) means that the actual number of people is more than 60 million (i.e., >6 crores). This is a huge number. Also, the highest number of suicides occurring in the world are committed by Indians. Even if it is argued that this figure is because of India’s massive population, the number is just too high to be ignored.
Unfortunately, the stigma attached to mental illness is obstructing the path towards recovery and solutions. Most Indian families are unaware or even if they are aware, simply dismiss these cries for help as a ‘difficulty that will pass’. Most often than not, it will not. Instead, it will lead to self-harm and suicide. Although India has a mental health policy, it seems not to have been properly implemented.
There is an urgent need for a mental health discourse in India. A lot of people are suffering silently, unable to confide and overcome crippling depression and self-harm. It is important to address this issue as an important public health policy issue and the Government of India should give it the priority that it deserves. Lest we forget, better late than never.