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COVID And Teen Suicide: How The Pandemic Is Curbing Youngsters’ Will To Live

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

*Trigger Warning: Mentions of Suicide*

That night when Arpit went to his room, everything was normal. As usual, he talked to his friends on the phone, helped his mom in the kitchen, had dinner and went to sleep. The next day was a big one for him. He was starting a new chapter of his life, i.e. college. But Arpit never woke up to see his big day. On the night of 23 April, 2021, 17-year-old Arpit Sharma died by suicide.

Arpit is one of many teens who ended their life during the COVID crises. Teen suicides have become a critical issue. It has always been. Suicide is a major cause of death among people aged between 10–24 years. An article from the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) suggests that 6,488 people ended their life in 2019 alone.

Representative Image.

Teen suicides have surged higher during the COVID pandemic. We wake up each day to the news of teens dying by suicide because of trivial reasons like an argument over a video game or a small fight with siblings over sweets. This is an alarming behaviour that needs our immediate attention.

ProPublica, a non-profit news publication based in New York City, wrote a detailed feature on the impact of the COVID pandemic on teens. They explained how COVID has cost teens their future, friendships, peace of mind and ultimately their life.

COVID Is Damaging Us Mentally

Apart from killing millions of people, making billions of people jobless and crippling the economy, COVID has also impacted us mentally. Researchers are already noticing a surge in depression.

To analyse the gravity of the situation, I talked to many people about the impact of the COVID pandemic. The stories I uncovered were eye-opening:

“COVID is a living hell. It’s been a year since I met my friends. I spend the entire day on my phone wondering about my future,” said 19-year-old Ritu, a second-year college student who hasn’t even seen the face of her teachers since the day she took admission.

“You know it’s a shame when you have to be dependent on your parents to cover your expenses even after marriage. COVID took my self-respect,” said 26-year-old Saurabh. He got married the last year but lost his job due to the pandemic.

Even worse is the plight of those who tested COVID positive.

“Consider yourself lucky if COVID has still not affected you,” 20-year-old Pooja said, sharing her experience. She and her family had to live in quarantine for 14 days. “You can live with the feeling that you will get well after 14 days. But it’s hard to face the hostility from people around you,” she further added.

“Imagine knowing someone for years and not even getting to say a final goodbye to them,” said local Junior Engineer Mahender Singh Thakur, almost breaking into tears. Mahender lost his brother-in-law 7 days before his nephew’s marriage.

Man Covid Mask
Representative Image.

For COVID warrior Abhay Shukla, the pandemic is no less than a nightmare. “Seeing so many people dying takes something away from you. I couldn’t sleep for nights,” he said. “Please take precautionary measures and stay at home. Our hearts break when people plead in front of us, and we can’t save them,” he further added.

All these stories have one thing in common. They show how COVID has made us more depressed. The torture it has induced on us is beyond words. The situation has become so bad that doctors are taking their own lives and if we don’t take the necessary measures, we will soon become a nation riddled with mental health issues.

Teens Are The Most Vulnerable

“Let me tell you. Teens are the most vulnerable during the COVID pandemic.” This statement from Psychology student Simran Kaur came as a shocker. However, when she explained the whole situation, it made a lot of sense. Here is what she said:

“Teens are misunderstood. But now they’re lonely too. They’re cut off from the outer world. Screen time has increased, and social media is their only point of contact with the outer world. Above this, their parents think they’re worthless. All these things are only pushing them towards depression and suicide.”

I could find some hint of Simran’s statement in Ritu’s when I asked Ritu about the same:

“Sometimes, I can’t sleep because I worry about my future. Our parents think we’re sheltered and carefree. But just because we’re not old doesn’t mean we don’t have problems of our own.”

Ritu is not alone. Many teens are feeling depressed because they don’t have a clear future. Even worse is that they don’t even have their friends to talk to. Mobile phones are their only point of contact with the outer world. But it only leads to behavioural changes.

As a result, teens are becoming more violent, depressed and suicidal. The increasing dependence on substance abuse to cope with stress has increased. A report even suggests that over 25% of teens thought about dying by suicide in the last 30 days.

How Is The Media Contributing To The Negativity?

“Humble appeal to the news media, please don’t be vultures feeding on alive people.”

Vikas Sharma, a Rheumatologist in IGMC Shimla, had shared a heartbreaking post on Facebook. In this post, Vikas shared how the constant news of hospitals full of patients, families of deceased, people dying and burning pyres created panic even among healthy people.

Vikas’s post reminded me of something that happened to me a few days back. My mom broke down after seeing the video of two kids who lost their parents. She was already stressed after my dad tested COVID positive and my entire family was in quarantine. This video only heightened her emotions and made her more depressed.

The overly negative portrayal of news can result in drastic changes among people. Studies have found how negative news headlines can negatively impact your life. If you have tested COVID positive and are watching people dying due to the pandemic, it will only increase your anxiety.

Similar is the case with social media. Things can be drastic if you are overly active on social media. You may experience Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), sleep deprivation and mood swings. Some studies have even found that increased use of social media during COVID may lead to more teen suicides.

What Can We Do?

“Collective measures are the key to prevent the issue of teen suicides,” said Simran Kaur when I asked her about preventing teen suicides. “As a society, we have to assume collective responsibility,” she further added.

Simran shared a list of things we can do as teens, parents, media and society to control and overcome the issue:

As teens, we should:

  1. Be more open to communication.
  2. Follow a healthy routine like Yoga and meditation.
  3. Limit the screen time and utilise our free time for learning new skills.
  4. Not be afraid to reach out.

As parents, we should:

  1. Be more open and gentler with our kids.
  2. Carefully observe the changing behaviour of our child.
  3. Listen to our children and understand their problems.
  4. Guide and inspire our kids through the tough times.

As the media, we should:

  1. Be responsible about what kind of news/media we’re showing.
  2. Focusing more on solutions instead of highlighting the problem alone.
  3. Be more empathetic with the audience instead of being profit-centric.

As a society, we should:

  1. Break the stigma around mental health.
  2. Encourage schools to conduct happiness surveys from time to time to monitor teens’ behaviour.
  3. Educate children about the importance of mental health.
man silhouette
Representative Image.

“A little support can go a long way. My wife and parents have been supportive during this entire time. They’re the reason I could make it through the pandemic,” said Saurabh when I asked him about overcoming the issue of increasing teen suicides.

“I would appreciate it if my parents can sit by my side and ask how you are instead of scolding me for being awake the entire night. All I want for them is to listen and understand me,” was Ritu’s take.

“Society needs to understand that discrimination does a lot more harm than the pandemic itself. The pandemic is real. But getting paranoid about it will only spread chaos,” said Pooja.

“You need a circle of close friends with whom you can share everything without hesitation. They will always guide you through the tough times,” was Mahender Singh Thakur’s view.

“I am very close to my family. Every night before sleeping, I talked to them. They are the only people that kept me sane and going. Your family is your greatest strength,” said COVID-warrior Abhay.

Here is my take:

“Change doesn’t happen all of a sudden. It takes several collective measures to resolve an issue. Teen suicides are not only a teen’s problem. It’s our collective problem as a society — and we all have to take collective steps to prevent it. The moment we realise this, change will start happening in the society.”

What’s your take on preventing teen suicides? Please let me know your views in the comments.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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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