Band-aid solutions won’t reduce suicides

Band-aid solutions won’t reduce suicides

Educational Institutions need better approach to mental health

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

Removing ceiling fans in the hostels and barring access to terraces and rooftops as a suicide prevention measure by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) is as ludicrous as it can get. Because, firstly, students feeling suicidal have many other options; secondly, a band-aid solution is no way to deal with such a serious issue.

In the last two years, IISc, one of the most prestigious institutes in the country, has lost six of its students to suicide. Each death is tragic, but suicides are particularly heart-wrenching for their sheer preventability and the trail of distress and guilt they leave behind for their families and friends; suicides of young are even more so. IISc, of course, cannot be singled out for such unfortunate incidents.

The government data indicates that 122 students from IITs, IIMs and central institutes ended their own lives in the past seven years. The case of Rohit Vemula, a bright PhD scholar, that stirred up a huge student movement is still fresh in public memory.

Suicide among college and university students is not limited to India either. It is the most common cause of student deaths in the US and UK.

One wonders whether our premier education institutions are becoming stress centres for students. The bar on academic standards being higher and competition being fiercer, pressure to succeed is greater undoubtedly. However, only students with very high scholastic ability, strong dedication and passion join these institutions, many of whom will incur high financial liabilities. When they take the extreme step, it calls for serious introspection.

Certain trigger points, when identified, can help in taking pre-emptive measures. It is important to look for reasons within the institutions as well as search for vulnerabilities.

Each student faces a volley of academic, social and emotional stressors that can be further aggravated while staying away from the comforts of home and family for the first time. Poor, marginalised and women students especially, face the added burden of discrimination, isolation, bullying and harassment more often owing to the stereotypes that exist against them. These take a huge toll on their mental health and academic performances making them feel dejected, depressed and lonely. Research has found suicide to be strongly associated with depression and loneliness.  

The onus to ensure a socially sensitive and gender-equal environment certainly lie with the institutes. Sadly, many of them do paltry little to tackle socio-cultural and gender violations. Mental health is another area that is grossly misunderstood, still stigmatised and seldom addressed. Student welfare units, wellness and counselling centres are often cosmetic in nature.

Conversely, the rise in suicide is a reflection of poorer mental health in this generation of millennials. More numbers are diagnosed with anxiety and depression and are medicated more than ever before. Students often see failure and low academic performance as catastrophic and life-threatening, as evidenced by the sudden rise in suicide right after exam results.

Derisive as it may sound, the youngsters tend to be easily upset and offended, and are unable to handle criticism and rejection. Blame it on the overprotective, overindulgent and achievement-oriented parents who inadvertently stunt the abilities of children to solve their own problems, deal with disappointments and cope with even normal challenges of life.

Increasing bureaucratisation even at the school and midlevel education, fanning consumerist attitude and undermining the actual goal of learning has only made things worse. In order to mollify students and reduce their stress burden, academic quality and evaluation standards are compromised, shielding them from facing academic challenges and potential failure at an earlier age, denying an opportunity for resilience building. While implementing National Education Policy, this deserves due attention.

The pandemic played havoc with the mental health of youngsters. Alongside academic courses, resilience building and mental fitness training imparted by mental health professionals in all educational institutions become all the more crucial. Also, early detection of mental health issues is vital in providing timely remedial actions and preventing mishaps. It is time mental health is taken more seriously in educational institutions and by parents, performance and excellence can always follow.

(The author is a professor in Psychology, author and Director, Eudaimonic Centre for Change and Wellbeing, Bengaluru)

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