Dr. Satyavan Saurabh
There is a strong link between job loss or unemployment rates and mental health, substance abuse, and suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among school-age youth. Sociologist Emile Durkheim famously hypothesized that ‘suicide is the result of not only psychological or emotional factors but also social factors. Every 40 seconds someone takes his life in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 16 women per 100,000 women take their own lives. As per the available data, the suicide rate for women in India is the sixth highest in the world. Suicide is the second leading cause of death, especially among young men, exceeding death only due to traffic accidents. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young women. We lose about 25 men for every 100,000 men who commit suicide. The reasons for the high number of suicides in India are a combination of psychological or emotional impacts and social dimensions.
Women are grappling with a disproportionate socio-economic burden. Differences in socially acceptable ways of dealing with stress and conflict for women and men, domestic violence, and poverty in different ways affect women more. Married women are the largest victim of suicide deaths among women in general. This group becomes more vulnerable due to systematic and early marriage, young motherhood, and economic dependence. The past few decades have witnessed massive economic, labour, and social changes that have rarely been seen before. Such rapid changes coupled with economic disorganization and changes in social and community relations may make the issue more vulnerable.
The social stigma attached to mental health disorders in India is a major obstacle to correcting them. Stigma and a general lack of knowledge and understanding prevent timely intervention when it comes to mental health disorders. Medical and psychological care is lacking, and the state’s capabilities to address mental health issues are non-existent. There are about 5,000 psychiatrists and less than 2,000 clinical psychologists in the country. Mental health expenditure is a small part of total public health expenditure. The economy of India largely depends on agriculture and about 60% of people are directly or indirectly dependent on it. Drought due to various reasons, low cost of produce, exploitation by middlemen, and inability to pay loans drive Indian farmers to commit suicide.
The reason for such a high number of youth suicides can be attributed to the lack of economic, social, and emotional resources. Specifically, academic pressure, workplace stress, social pressure, modernization of urban centers, relationship concerns, and the breakdown of support systems. Some researchers have attributed the rise of youth suicide to urbanization and the breakdown of the traditional large family support system. Conflict of values within families is an important factor in young people’s lives. As young Indians become more progressive, their traditional families become less supportive of their choices regarding financial independence, age of marriage, rehabilitation, care for the elderly, etc. The WHO says that depression and suicide are closely related and in the worst case, depression can lead to suicide. India accounts for 18 percent of the total number of people suffering from depression globally.
Discrimination and abuses and racial slurs, sexist slurs, etc. which lead to extreme harassment of persons belonging to the Scheduled Tribe community for seeking admission in college through the SC/ST quota. Caste-based discrimination and resentment from upper caste students and teachers are common in the high-pressure environment of medical colleges as well as other higher educational institutions in the country. The Thorat Committee report has shown that caste in AIIMS, the country’s premier medical college based on how widespread and varied were the discrimination practices. Other experts have suggested proactive steps as early as adolescence, with the introduction of mental health into the school curriculum. Mental Health Care Act 2016, the act will ensure that these people have the right to a life with dignity and will not be discriminated against or harassed by the authorities.
There have been some positive developments in the last few years. The criminalization of suicide was long overdue and welcome. The same is true for the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India’s order that insurance companies have to make provisions to include physical ailments as well as mental illnesses in their policies. Concerned over the rising incidents of suicides in Indian colleges, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has circulated a manual to higher education institutions in the country, asking the authorities to take measures to prevent students from taking extreme steps. Manual inventory measures such as early identification of suicidal tendencies, a friend program, and a double-blind helpline where both the caller and the counsellor are unaware of each other’s identities.
Stop-gap solutions for setting up expert committees and counsellors in schools have not been able to solve the problem. Deep-rooted causes must be addressed. The government should do a comprehensive study of the reasons behind these suicides.
The curriculum should be designed in a way that emphasizes the importance of mental exercise and meditation. Example: Delhi government’s initiative on ‘Happiness Curriculum’ may be a step in the right direction. For higher education, creating an Equal Opportunity Cell in universities and colleges with an anti-discrimination officer. From the most “innocuous” ragging practices to the “extreme harassment”, such discriminatory behaviour constitutes violence and an attack on a person’s human rights that prevents them from living their lives with dignity and receiving education.
Educational approaches in schools, i.e. education about the facts of suicide, developing education modules in life skills, and problem-solving and training teachers, should be given psychological support and care to the individual. The state can also take help from NGOs as well as religious missionaries for this purpose. Focusing on training resources and streamlining funding, along with strengthening the existing National Mental Health Program and District Mental Health Program, are some of the other recommendations for fighting depression and suicide. The time has come for us to rediscover our educational ecosystem with new meanings, new ideas of living, and new ways of nurturing new possibilities that can transform a life of uncertainty into a life worth living. Suicide can be prevented. Young people contemplating suicide often give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, and friends are in an important position to understand these signs and get help. Most importantly, never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them a secret.
However, suicide is preventable. Young people contemplating suicide often give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, and friends are in an important position to understand these signs and get help. Most importantly, never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them a secret. Parents are important members of suicide risk assessments because they often have important information to properly assess risk, including mental health history, family dynamics, recent traumatic events, and past suicidal behaviours. When all adults and students in the school community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority and empowered to take the right action, we can help youth before they commit suicide. (The author is a poet, independent journalist, and columnist)