JEE Mains results are out. Candidates who fared well are ecstatic and the ones who couldn’t shall start their prep again soon. It is one of the most competitive exams. A million students participate and only 2 lakh of those qualify for JEE Advance and only 10k students students get into the prestigious IIT’s. The competition is fierce and the stress levels are extremely high. And it is this stress that leads students to take drastic steps toward suicide.
According to National Crime Records Bureau, more than 1.7 lakh students lost their lives to suicide from 1995 to 2019. Blue Pencil News talked to a renowned psychotherapist, Shrishti Narula to understand what leads students to take such a drastic steps.
- Suicide has been been termed as a public health issue. Could you please shed some light on what is a public health issue?
- An issue or concern becomes a public health issue whenever it starts to concern the entire population of a country/state and is not only limited to particular groups or sections of the society. This means that each and every one of us is likely to be affected by the issue of suicide. It is part of our lived experiences and not some far removed tale.
Suicide has become a public health issue now as it’s affecting all of us – all sections of the society, all age groups, and all social classes.
- What are the reasons behind high student suicides here in India?
- 2. It’s a multi-faceted problem. We cannot blame only individuals (in this case students) that they are not strong enough or do not have enough coping resources. We need to look at the concern from a psychosocial lens which means that the problem is an interplay of social and psychological factors.
Firstly we need to understand what causes stress for students. These include:
– Academic pressure from not only parents but the societal ideas in general. The fact that students are exposed the idea that academic success is the only way to move forward in life and if they don’t succeed in this one area, then their life is ruined and they are a failure. This creates a lot of stress and pressure for students. The main concern here is that in this case the student’s worth as a person gets equated to their academic achievements.
– Another dimension of the above point is that students may not be able to perform well academically due to many reasons. These include undiagnosed mental health concerns, , family conflict/divorce, non acceptance and support from family for queer individuals, bullying, abuse etc.
– Also students are in the developmental stage of adolescence, which means that they are still in the process of figuring out how to navigate their thoughts, emotions and identity. This also contributes to stress as it is a transitional period.
But these reasons alone do not lead to suicide, they are just causes for stress. The main reason here is that students do not have access to resources that help them overcome these concerns. There are no systemic sources of support for students to navigate these concerns.
For a public health issue, the responsibility to resolve these falls on the individual, which is unfair and only a privileged few may have the ability to access these resources.
I want to highlight that it is not mental health concerns or any other stress that leads to suicide, it is lack of legal, social and policy level support that leaves students feeling helpless and stuck that leads to suicide.
- In your experience what goes wrong that students have to take such a drastic measure?
- It is the lack of any solution or direction for moving forward that leads to suicide among students. The concerns seem unsolvable and so insurmountable to students that they take the step of ending their lives.
As mentioned before, this is mainly due to lack of systemic support for students which aids in their mental wellness. This not only includes access to therapy, but societal change wherein academic success is not the only way one can be successful, government policies that support students’welfare, societal and policy level change that makes accomodations for students with unique/non-normative needs (which also needs awareness first).
- What measures can be taken to prevent these disasters?
- I will answer this question in terms of what can be done at different levels.
- Individually, students can be supported to develop ways to support their mental wellness – self care strategies, stress management etc.
- At a family level, families can be sensitised to understanding the unique needs of children, accept and support children in gaining resources to fulfill these needs and create a safe supportive environment. The family members (especially parents/primary caregivers) need to also need access to resources to take care of their own mental health and wellness, be financially secure and emotionally available for their children.
- At a school and community level: In school all staff that interacts with students needs to be sensitised about the unique needs of children and make accommodations for the same. The school as well as the community needs to take take steps to make a safe, and comfortable environment for children. (Here, safety is not only physical but also psychological and emotional – where students can feel free to express their needs, opinions and emotions).
- 4. At a policy level – Policies that focus on mental health of students are essential. Also, all policies that impact families, school and communities also indirectly impact students mental health as they aid in creating safe and secure environments for students.
- 5. Finally as a larger society, we need to change ideas related to success as well as worth of an individual, and bridge the gap that exists between different social groups on the basis of class, caste, religion etc. We also need to speak more openly about mental health, remove the stigma around it and understand mental health from a psychosocial lens and not an individual lens.