India Facing Severe Student-Suicide Crisis

An Indian student commits suicide every hour.  The country suffers the highest such rate in Southeast Asia, yet policymakers and communities remain ambivalent, unwilling or unable to address the debilitating pressure of academics on its youth.

The Bane of Coaching Centres

Pressure builds early, right from class X. The norm set by coaching centres plays a significant role in fueling this phenomenon. The centres claim to be miracle workers but they use students’ lives as experiments to perfect their own formula for success; to them, success is about money made, not academic lives.

But coaching centres aren’t going anywhere. They are here to stay, which makes it imperative that they implement psychological well-being programs to counter their high-pressure environments.

A Prototype Stress Management Program

Four mental health experts in Karnataka have investigated what a stress management program should look like and hypothesized a model. They propose a ‘buddy system’ with a ratio of 1:25 that is one trained student per 25 fellow students. The training would be given by a psychologist or psychiatrist, so the volunteers are prepared for anything thrown their way. They would then counsel their peers at least two hours weekly. In addition, parents and faculty need to be counselled in providing a gentle and understanding environment conducive to their children unburdening themselves and broadening their career horizons. Successful comedians are envisioned as facilitators, because they are evidence that one can be successful in life despite failure in the sciences!

Kota’s Pioneering Efforts

Programs of this sort have already made an encouraging impact. Kota, India’s tech school and suicide “capital,” experienced a 70% drop in suicide rates in 2017. The city’s Additional District Magistrate, Sunita Daga credits reaching out to all stakeholders, from parents and others to students, as the principal reason. More recently, four IITians launched the ‘Making Kota, Happiness City’ campaign to boost the city-wide Happiness Index, which surveys the state of happiness. They encourage students to engage in sports and recreational activities on a daily basis to battle mounting academic pressure.

The Importance of Equal Access

Unfortunately, suicide rates are still unacceptably high in Kota and India in general. We still have a long way to go. Everyone needs to be aware of the symptoms of depression and of suicidal tendencies. Students must look out for each other, reporting early warning signs of self-harm counselors who can take action. Further, such student-enabled reports would help improve such programs over time. The program must be improved until not one student even contemplates taking such an extreme step.

Most important, such programs must be accessible to every student; they cannot be made subject to economic standing. Stress levels have been documented to be measurably higher among students who belong to underprivileged communities.  Such students are held responsible for raising their family’s quality of life and even minor setbacks can deliver huge emotional blows.

To enable equal access, the cost of stress management programs must be borne by the centres. They make enormous profits, especially among the poor. The state governments could also be guided to allocate a modest portion of their budget to the emotional well-being of their youth.

Additional Precautions

There are additional steps the centres must take. Because hanging from a ceiling fan is a common means of suicide at coaching centres, Engineer Sharad Ashani  designed a fan to foil such attempts. Whenever a load beyond 20 kg is attached, the fan stops spinning and lowers the individual to the ground. Despite its innovation, the “smart fan” has had limited traction. Ashani blames the centres for being apathetic to the plight of their students. Not only should every centre install such fans, they should employ them as a teaching tool to inspire students to put their knowledge to practical use, whether individually or in groups.

Ashani has hit the bull’s eye: The Indian youth is losing its zest for life at an age where it has barely experienced it. The centres have turned a blind eye to the epidemic, blinded by their own gains. The country must persevere to remind the centres of the vision they were set up with: to help students achieve their dreams.


Image Attribute: Pixabay