Friday, February 23, 2024

An ounce of prevention

In India, suicide has become one of the leading causes of death among youth in the 15-29 age group, exceed ing road traffic accidents in men and maternal mortality in women. Going even by the unreliable statistics from the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), the country has been witnessing an alarming surge in suicidal deaths ~ with a rate of 10.2 in 2018, 10.4 in 2019, 11.3 in 2020, and 12 in 2021 (per lakh population). It is said that true numbers of deaths by suicide in India are impossible to comprehend due to the stigma attached to suicide and the ‘draconian’ provision of Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC): “Whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall be punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or fine or both”. Also, it bodes well to bear in mind that only 20% of deaths in India are certified for causes. According to the NCRB’s report, student suicide was 70% more in one decade (ended in 2021) than the 7,696 student suicides in the preceding decade. The reasons behind this alarming trend are complex and multifaceted, deeply rooted in the intense academic pressure, societal expectations, and stigma surrounding mental health that burden India’s young minds. The education system, with its emphasis on rote memorisation and high-stakes exams, fuels anxiety and stress, particularly among students who fear disappointing their families or falling behind their peers. Parental expectations, often unrealistic and overwhelming, weigh heavily on students, leading to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness when they fail to meet these prescribed standards of success. Mental health issues, often shrouded in stigma and misunderstanding, make it difficult for students to seek help and support when they are struggling ~ exacerbating feelings of isolation and despair. The consequences of this crisis extend far beyond the immediate tragedy of each suicide. The loss of young lives represents a profound loss of potential for the nation’s and the society’s future. Families and communities are left shattered, bearing the weight of grief and unanswered questions. The nation as a whole is deprived of the contributions and talents of its youth, a loss that can neither be easily measured nor replaced. Addressing this crisis requires immediate reforms in education, mental health awareness and societal norms. The education system must shift its focus from rote memorisation to nurturing critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills, reducing the emphasis on high-stakes exams and fostering a more holistic approach to learning. Mental health education should be integrated into the school curriculum, empowering students to understand mental health issues, recognise signs of distress and seek help without fear of ridicule when needed. Stigma surrounding mental health must be challenged and eradicated, creating an environment where students feel comfortable seeking support without fear of judgment or discrimination. Access to mental health care must be expanded and made more affordable, ensuring that students have the resources they need to address their mental health concerns. Training more mental health professionals and increasing awareness of available services are essential steps in overcoming this barrier. Open communication and supportive environments are crucial in preventing student suicides. Parents, teachers and peers must play a proactive role in creating a safe space for students to express their concerns, seek help and feel heard without fear of judgment or reprisal. Societal norms that contribute to mental health stigma and gender stereotypes need to be challenged and transformed, promoting a culture of empathy, understanding and inclusivity. Tackling the issue of student suicides is a complex and multifaceted challenge, but it is one that we can no longer afford to ignore. By addressing the root causes of this crisis ~ reforming the education system, promoting mental health awareness, expanding access to care and fostering open communication ~ we can work towards a future where our youth are empowered to thrive and reach their full potential.