Address students’ mental health crises for India’s future

Address students’ mental health crises for India’s future

Published: 04th January 2024 12:28 AM

Image used for representational purposes only. (Express Illustrations)

A 21-year-old BBA student of a reputed Bengaluru college died by suicide after her parents denied her permission to participate in a photo shoot on New Year’s Eve. At first, it may sound like a ridiculous reason to take the extreme step. Ditto with the case of the BTech student who in July 2023 jumped to his death from the terrace of a reputed university in South Bengaluru—he had been caught copying at an exam and his mother had been summoned to the varsity office. The apparent reasons may appear silly to many of us.

Unfortunately, such immediate triggers are given more prominence while trying to explain student suicides, rather than addressing the deep-rooted reasons that fester in their minds over time. Mental health issues are the prime villains. Depression, trauma, stress, social stigma, discrimination, and anxiety rising from the pressure to perform better in academics in an increasingly competitive arena—these are driving students into corners from where their screams for help are often never heard. Their condition remains invisible until a seemingly trivial incident triggers suicide. Often,  family and friends of the victim completely miss the symptoms pointing to mental health problems or worse, have no clue about them.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, some 10,335 students were reported to have died by suicide in 2019. The figure rose over the next two years to 12,526 in 2020 and 13,089 in 2021. The latest reported year, 2022, saw a marginal drop to 13,044. That is a worryingly high number of 48,994 young lives lost in four years before taking the first step into their careers.

A Karnataka government committee to probe the July 2023 suicide recommended open-book exams in higher education to reduce stress among students. However, although beneficial in reducing stress, it does not address the larger problem of mental health issues among them. Mental health is valuable for keeping the country’s human resources healthy. But its relative invisibility and misgivings about it deceive us into ignoring the problems that could be even more serious than a raging pandemic.

The central and state governments need to work as one to focus on improving mental health right from schoolchildren upwards. That should be among their top priorities because we are talking about nothing less than the country’s future here.

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