With 356 million, India has the highest number of 10-24-year-olds. It is believed that the country is in a stage of demographic dividend, which has the potential to propel India onwards its journey of becoming a superpower. Demographic dividend refers to the growth in an economy that is the result of a change in the age structure of a country's population. It said that developing countries with large youth populations could see their economies soar, provided they invest heavily in young people's education and health and protect their rights.
However, the country’s government, its organisations as well as its people have sadly ignored a serious problem plaguing the country, which is the case of student suicides in India.
India’s Student Suicide Problem
According to the latest available data from the National Crime Records Bureau, a student commits suicide every hour in India. In the country, the most common age group with the maximum number of suicides belongs to one of 15-29 years. For both sexes in India, suicide was the leading cause of death among those aged 15-39 in 2016, while globally it was the third most common cause of death for this age group. As many as 7% of all students commit suicide every year.
While the number of student suicides stood at 8,934 in 2017, it is believed that the number of unreported cases will make the numbers even higher.
States like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh are the states with the highest number of youth suicides reported.
Sadly, the suicide rate increases as you spend more time in the country’s education system. The fact that suicides are the highest in this demographic is worrisome for a country like India, who is banking on this age group for its future growth and development.
Why Is India Suffering From It?
Several reasons have contributed to this crisis in India. It’s one that doesn’t attract much media attention, or even if it does, it quickly goes off air within a few days. Suicide in itself is a topic that is taboo in India, and lack of coverage, awareness and analysis of the Student Suicide Crisis in the country has allowed it to snowball into a grave issue that needs to be addressed immediately.
The Pressures of The Education System
The Indian Education system and stress are synonymous with each other. The system is characterized by rote learning, textbook heavy syllabus, and high levels of competition, all of which increase the stress and anxiety of Indian students. The acceptance rate of one of India’s premier medical institutes, AIIMS stands at 0.1%. This is even tougher than Ivy League institutes, which have rates around 5%.
Not only this, the constant stream of examinations and possible failures demotivate the students, leading to depression and poor mental health. Hundreds of students flock to coaching classes, spending hours there in the hope of getting admissions into the colleges of their choice. Here, the Students follow draconian rules and study schedules that leave them feeling depleted and depressed.
Even after getting into the colleges, the pressure of assignments, exams and the competition is so high that they often find themselves struggling to cope up with it, often taking their own lives when it all becomes too much.
The Indian education system fosters a competitive environment, and students who don’t secure admission to top institutes are viewed as failures. Student suicides are becoming increasingly common in Kota, Rajasthan, considered the capital of India’s shadow education system. Its many commercial coaching centres, that guarantee success in professional entrance exams, pressure students into striving for unrealistic goals. Unable to cope with failure and anxious about letting their family down, a growing number of Kota students opt to end their lives
External Pressure From Parents
Academic stress is something which has affected almost every student in the country at some point or the other, and it’s not only the institutes that are to blame. Indian parents, relatives and peers also passively contribute to this. By comparing marks, pay packages and ranks throughout a student’s life, it contributes to increasing the pressure on them to perform, prompting most students to have higher stress levels. The constant need to impress or meet the expectations of one's parents puts the Indian student into a vicious cycle, failure in which pushed the student down the road of poor mental health. “ I remember I used to hate disappointing my parents in my childhood. Like they used to be sad if I didn’t score well. So whenever I used to get low marks, I used to be more worried about how I’ve disappointed my parents and how they will react, rather than actually trying to understand why did I score fewer marks” said Ridham.
Ignorance of Mental Health
It is a well-known fact that we as Indians don’t give mental health the adequate attention and care that it needs. We’ll go to the doctor for as little as a cold, but would rarely ever go see a therapist if we feel something is wrong with us mentally.Sadly, that’s the same case with our authorities as well. India does not spend enough on mental health. Currently, it spends 0.06% of its health budget on mental health, which is less than Bangladesh (0.44%). Most developed nations spend above 4% of their budgets on mental-health research, infrastructure, frameworks and talent pool, according to this 2011 World Health Organization (WHO) report.
Also, India does not have a uniform policy that makes it compulsory for educational institutions to keep a trained counsellor among its regular staff to address students’ needs. The fact that students don’t have professional help to talk to around them, at a time when they made need it the most, is alarming
Professional help is difficult to find because India endures an 87% shortage of mental-health professionals, which urgently needs to be met to cater to the Indian population.
So what can be done?
It is absolutely imperative that in a stressful environment like an educational instate, counsellors are present, offering students help and a way out to vent their feelings. Increased awareness about mental health and its effects is essential to ensure that talking about how we feel is no longer a taboo in the country.
Universities in India still lack counselling centres, where trained counsellors and psychologists can assist students at the onset of emotional and mental problems so they do not spiral into full-fledged clinical depression and lead to suicide.
Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression need to be addressed without stigma in schools and colleges, and parents should be encouraged to inculcate and foster feelings of sensitivity toward their children. India needs to give attention to the mental health of its students, and it needs to do it now.