Is The Sharp Rise In Student Suicides Becoming An Epidemic For India?

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Two periods in a student’s life prove crucial to them and the people surrounding them — examinations and results. Right from the very beginning, parents and teachers play a crucial part in putting students under tremendous pressure of performing well in academics and entrance examinations, in lieu of their better future, so much so that they often forget the internal battles and challenges that students fight almost every day to live up to those expectations.

The fear of not getting through IITs made me work hard during my 11th-12th; my anxiety hit the peak which is when I decided to change my stream altogether than succumbing to the pressure. But, how many students have had the same privilege? This is that time of the year when results of the board and entrance examinations are announced, deciding the fate of millions of students; this has been going around for decades.

But millennials are facing major problems coping with the burden. In this write-up, I will try to put across a few reasons that I have learned, which make things difficult for students.

Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota
Students attend class at the Bansal Classes in Kota, in India’s desert state of Rajasthan. (Photo: REUTERS/Ahmad Masood)

As many as 9,474 students died by suicide in 2016, which implies that almost 26 students died every day. That’s almost one student every hour; how devastating is this figure?! The magnitude of stress parents and society put on the students leads them to give up and take their own lives is an undeclared emergency in the country.

Data by the NCRB shows an increase in student suicide rates by 240% in the last decade. One of the major names that come up when we talk of entrance exams is Kota, a city in Rajasthan known for coaching students rigorously paralleling punishing schedules with one aim — academic glory and excellence.

In interviews conducted by BBC and CNN, students reveal that their interests lie in fashion designing, dancing, music, etcetera; yet they spend months or years away from home, in Kota, and study for as many as fourteen hours every day hoping for a bright future.

What Are The Reasons For This?

Looking at the above-mentioned data, interacting with students, and listening to interviews and perception of various field experts, we can say that there is more than one reason behind students taking up such destructive measures.

Elders’ Expectations

A significant number of students admit that they study because their parents and teachers have made them feel that cracking these entrance or board examinations is the only way they can become successful in their respective lives. A lot of these students express their wish to study humanities and have explicitly mentioned that these examination preparations are in no way taking them where they want to be.

As parents, elder siblings, and educators, it becomes our prime duty to encourage students to follow the career path that they want. It is rather apparent that a government job or passing out of IIT would promise a more certain and secure career; but let’s face it, there are millions of applicants against only 23 IITs. The chances of someone getting through an IIT when they are not even interested in doing it is slim.

When parents of the students who had died by suicide out of exam pressure and stress were interviewed, they said they had only little idea about what was going on in their child’s mind. This indicates a huge communication gap in the parents wanting to be empathetic with their children.

Deteriorating Mental Health

India is the most depressed country, and the pressure students face is only a testimony to why we rank so high in the domain of poor mental health. According to a report, the country spends 0.06% of the total budget on mental health — which is not a very pleasant number, in my opinion. Students cannot handle pressure or seek aid when they feel depressed or anxious thus, gradually lose focus and attention.

I work as an author at an educational research wing. I remember suggesting the administration about introducing one module on mental health for the eighth grade. They turned me down by saying that students are too young to understand the concept of mental health. If this is the case of a company that deals in removing disparity in education, what can one possibly expect out of others?

Our lack of understanding of mental health and its direct link to student suicide is very harmful to our youth, which is an urgent call for action to all the educators, educational institutions, and teacher trainers. If you want to torture students to study well so they can make your institute and its performance looks well, might as well teach them how to cope with the pressure, no?

Students of IIT Bombay carrying out a solidarity march for Fathima Lateef, a first year MA student at IIT Madras, who died by suicide in November last year. Students across the country held similar gatherings, alleging Fathima’s death was no less than institutional murder. (Photo: Bhanu Prasad, YKA User)

Social Media

The main culprit behind emotional and mental disturbances and living up to societal expectations is the advent and the growing obsession with social media. How will I look in front of my parents and now, with social media, how will I look in front of my peers is another reason students feel immensely in turmoil.

The need for social acceptance and virtual validation is unforgiving and has made the entire situation no less than a virtual pressure cooker. Hence, in this age and time students are more vulnerable and susceptible to emotional disturbances and mental instability.

Someone I know of, who owns a chain of schools, puts up stories and posts on Instagram the very day results are announced, praising outstanding students with pride and not even acknowledging the rest of the class. Put yourself in this situation — you have not scored as you expected and are already upset and disturbed thinking of how you’ll confront your family and relatives (because they are an integral part when results are announced in India).

That very day — when you log on to your social media account — all you see is your principal and your facilitator praising the top scorers, portraying them as successful students with a bright future ahead of them. Can you be expected to stay calm and composed?

India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates and 25% of the total student suicides happen due to failure in examinations. Is it not high time for us to realise what we are losing our youth to? And how urgent this situation is?

What Can You Do?

As a parent, sibling, teacher, educator, or anyone who is directly related to a student, it is our responsibility to help them in this phase. This might seem like a catch-22 situation but we can play a significant part nevertheless.

1. Identify The Symptoms And Talk To Students

Try to identify the symptoms of ill mental health and talk to your child or student at regular intervals, especially before exams as to how they are handling things. Help ease their anxiety by telling them that an examination will not determine their future; it helps!

2. Refer Therapy To Them

Thankfully, most schools and coaching institutes now have a counsellor that the students can go to when in distress. However, most of them do not go. Encourage students to meet counsellors; and if possible, take them to one. It helps them cope with distress when they know someone’s there with them who understands and is willing to help. Counsellors and therapists are trained professionals who can help students fight their emotional battles.

My only request to anyone who reads this is that please understand that examination pressure is a real thing, and so is depression. Nothing justifies a student giving up their life for marks. Life is much more than that and the onus also lies on us to be empathetic, aware, and helpful to the country’s student populace. Note: this article was first published here

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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