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Responsible parenting important to stop Kota suicides: Mental health experts

Kota, the country’s coaching hub for cracking the country’s toughest entrance exams JEE and NEET and home to about two lakh students from all over the country.
Last Updated : 20 February 2024, 14:11 IST
Last Updated : 20 February 2024, 14:11 IST

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Jaipur: After a spate of student suicides and disappearances, Kota is no longer a place to leave your kid alone, says a concerned parent.

However, mental health experts say responsible parenting and respecting the child’s academic capability are necessary to stem the instances of such incidents.

Priya Sharma, a journalist from Patna, has left her well-cushioned job to be with her son, a XI standard student, who is currently coaching for JEE. “With the alarming rise in suicides and now disappearances, I could never think of leaving my son alone here. It is not safe to leave students in this coaching hub. In fact, we were never interested in sending him here but he was insistent because some of his other classmates have come here, as they say the peer pressure. They are staying in the hostel but I left my job to be with him.”

Kota, the country’s coaching hub for cracking the country’s toughest entrance exams JEE and NEET and home to about two lakh students from all over the country, has been witnessing a spate of suicides and now disappearances.

With an alarming 26 suicide cases in 2023 and already five in 2024 and at least three disappearances of students, it has become a city in pursuit of excellence but bogged down by stress, depression and despondency due to fierce competition and peer pressure. The suicide cases stood at 15 in 2022, 18 in 2019, 20 in 2018, 7 in 2017, 17 in 2016 and 18 in 2015.

The body of 16-year-old Rachit Sondhia, a JEE aspirant from Madhya was recovered from Chambal valley yesterday after he went missing for nine days. Another student, NEET aspirant Yuva, 18, from Sikar has also gone missing. Piyush Kapasia, a JEE aspirant from UP, has also been missing since Feb 13, making such incidents third in a row.

Over the last 28 years, Kota’s fame spread as it achieved an inordinately high success rate in getting selections to IIT and NEET entrances. Kota’s hyper-competitive coaching institutes, numbering over 300, have ensured that one in every three students finally selected to IIT, is from their stables, thus earning a stellar reputation for itself.

But this fame has turned into infamy with the rising student suicides. Relentless competition, packed schedules, long hours of studying alone, extreme pressure of performance, parents’ expectation, burden of financial stress on parents and homesickness all lead to bottling up of emotions, which often end up in suicides.

Although the state government has come out with strict guidelines like mandatory screening tests before admission, forming sections not based on ranks and performances, no glorification of toppers, regular counselling by hiring trained professional psychiatrists to keep check on students’ mental health, mandatory holidays, half-day fun and respite from regular, tough exams, the number of suicides is not abating.

Priya says her son, who is enrolled in a dummy school, attends his coaching classes from 2 pm to 9 pm. Kota, known for the rigorous military-like schedule for students, has other distracting things. “Some students get sidetracked and indulge in affairs, do drugs and when exams come, they panic. Parents, who may be busy in their schedule, do not find out until it is too late. Parents’ supervision is a must in a city like Kota,” says Priya.

Not all parents can leave their jobs to be with their kids, experts say. Raksha Rajesh, clinical psychologist, Mistu.care told Deccan Herald. “To arrest such incidents, there has to be systematic change. Firstly the student’s aptitude has to be ascertained, whether the child is upto it or not. It is like a domino effect, everything is connected like the lack of good, sensible parenting, high expectations, looking at the student only from an academic lens, social comparisons - all of these lead to students taking that extreme step. Some students are able to fight it, some others succumb to it.”

She adds individual parenting is the most important link to let the child feel secure. The parent has to provide the child the feeling of security and make them understand that failure is a part and parcel of life and not the end of everything.

The child must overcome the fear of failure, aided by his parents. The child must not feel that this is the only thing they could have done in their career path.

In this cut-throat environment, peer pressure, often abusive teachers, it is important that parents keep their communication lines open with the child, monitoring if there is any unusual behavioural change.

Parents must respect the child’s intellectual and academic capabilities instead of shaming them. Parents must understand there is a fine line between the act of motivational interventions and overwhelming pressure to excel. "Emotional safety of the child lies with the family. A child must have the courage to confide to his parents that he is not cut-out for this excessive pressure,” Rajesh explained.

Emphasising that systematic overall of the entire education system is needed to stop such incidents — including flexibility in admissions, increase of seats, and more quality institutes — Raksha says hiring of trained psychologists, mental health experts, counsellors should be made mandatory in coaching institutes, more so when they are taking so much fees.

Suicide helplines are there but not publicised. At least 99% of the suicides can be prevented if regular sessions by counsellors are held.”

The government guidelines to make teaching staff, hostel wardens, mess workers, tiffin service providers detect any sign of depression is being followed, says Allen, one of the premier coaching institutes.

Allen has over 1.5 lakh students in its 23 campuses across Kota. “We have a gatekeeper course for all staff now after the September 2023 guidelines, wherein the staff is being coached by trained mental health experts to monitor if a student is showing any signs of depression. At present we have 67 psychologists and counsellors,” says Arzoo Chabbra, from Adfactors, who now handles the publicity of Allen coaching institute.

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Published 20 February 2024, 14:11 IST

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