*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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
New York Times this morning. India pic.twitter.com/ZvAEF1Gser
— Rana Ayyub (@RanaAyyub) April 25, 2021
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.
“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:
As parents, we should:
As the media, we should:
As a society, we should:
“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.