By C.S. Krishnamurthy
“Goodbye… I can’t take the pressure any longer…I’m not doing well in exams… no one is responsible for my death…” – a girl from Chandigarh.
“I’ll come back as a ghost to haunt my teachers…” – a note of a student from Bangalore.
An 18-year-old student dejected at not securing expected marks in NEET reportedly ended his life by jumping into a river.
The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that 10159 students committed suicide in 2018 and 11396 in 2020.
Pressure of perfection
Students of my parents’ generation were often the first of their families to go to college so they didn’t “compete”. Pupils these days constantly compete, yet feel inadequate. The ravaging pressure to be “the best,” triggers teenage brains to make impulsive choices, suicide being one of them. Drugs, alcohol, and fire-arms are the routes to self-destruction in the West; in India it’s exam stress.
Disturbing numbers show how education is perceived in India. Clues to suicide plans are overlooked, perhaps unknowingly.
Is fear of failure the only reason why students die of suicide? In a society obsessed with socio-economic success, personal choice and self- exploration have been neglected over the constant need to prove one’s academic credentials. This is widely seen among students. Suicide-prone deaths outnumber adolescent deaths due to AIDS, cancer, or cardiac arrest.
The education system does not generate sufficient job opportunities. The stress to get into a reputed institution is massive.
Domestic and peer pressure incite feelings of depression. If your home is riddled with chronic stress, poverty, trauma, or familial issues, your problems seem colossal. Academically, you’ll fall behind. Students from English-medium “convent” schools ridicule their peers who studied in government schools in the vernacular medium.
Parents and teachers often confuse encouragement with pressure. Students need to relax without the pressure to be perfect 24/7/365. Many students set high standards for themselves; when parents have them on a tether, it is psychologically harmful. The Indian Council of Medical Research says that as many as “12.8% adolescents suffer from psychiatric disorders.”
Parents have caused an ambiance where stellar feats in anything their children attempt is expected. This begins when children are toddlers. They believe that meeting societal standards will make them successful. This mindset can never be fruitful; perfection is a mirage.
The death of a child is a parent’s nightmare, worse when self-inflicted. After a suicide, loved ones struggle to make sense of the tragedy.
Are our institutions ready?
College students are naïve because this is a “critical transitory period” when they move from adolescence to adulthood, when they attempt to enter new/reputed institutions, ensure good grades, and plan for the future.
Are our institutions capable to assist students overcome these challenges? Are trained counsellors present in all campuses? Is counselling full-time or part-time? Is the budget in the areas of “guidance and counselling” adequate? Are the deep-rooted causes such as harassment by the troika of teachers, family members, and peer pressure addressed?
Students desire to escape the problems they think are too big for them; suicide seems like a way out. The tragedy is that they opt for a “permanent solution for a temporary problem”.
Some teachers have difficulty holding students accountable for their schoolwork or lack of it due to the intervention of parents and administrators, resulting in students not learning to take responsibility for their own work.
Are teenagers unready for adulthood? New India’s obsession with fancy degrees and anxiety about rankings is a serious issue. Psychiatrists say footfalls to their clinics increase every year “before exams and after results”.
Many children wake up with academic-related assignments. Fear of failure gives them nightmares. The pressure to excel gets deadly.
Daring themselves is fine but not at the cost of their lives. Some students also take performance-enhancing drugs to “keep nerves stress- free during exams”.
How to respond
Not all suicides can be prevented, but vigil should be the first option. We need to understand two basic things: They need love; they need self- esteem. Caring makes a difference between life and death. One moment is sufficient to elevate the mood of a dejected person. Reinforce the fact that many individuals who fail in one area succeed in other fields.
When your friend is depressed, ask if she/he is okay. When we are physically ill, we seek medical treatment; our loved ones take care of us at home. Apply the same method with mental health or depression, too.
Emotional backing helps avoid “extreme steps”. Distress tolerance, stress management, exercise, avoiding self-loathing, and asking for help are crucial skills that must be inculcated in all children. All schools should have a year-long class, ideally in the 4th/5th grade, about thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.
Help them grasp that the most important thing in school is the mind and how to express emotions. Make them proactive rather than reactive.
Children are less resilient today. Schools need social, emotional, and character-development curriculums. Motivation needs compassion.
Behavioural changes as well as variations in mood, sleep, eating patterns, and energy levels all matter. Suicide-prevention workshops with mandatory mental health departments in every campus and periodic teacher-parent-student meetings definitely help.
Remember your high-school days? Weren’t they filled with the joy of learning, socialising with friends, competing in team sport events, and thoroughly enjoying the benefits of adolescence? Don’t we have nostalgic views?
We have thousands of youngsters chasing a chimera. Shame on us for getting to this place! Suicide is not a choice. In the end, life’s challenges are still worth it! Death: Let it happen; don’t make it happen!