How can we prevent suicides among the youth?
It is alarming that between January and August this year, a total of 364 students have died by suicide in Bangladesh, according to a survey by the Aachol Foundation. Among them, 194 were school students. A large number of college and university students also died by suicide. Several reasons have been identified behind these suicides, including romantic relationships, session jams, failing in exams, study pressure, depression, death of friends, and financial problems. However, I would like to single out one simple root cause that has been driving all other causes and resulting in this sorry state of affairs: the lack of proper counselling and guidance.
Students go through a lot of issues in their daily lives, and they need guidance and counselling to cope with those issues, because it is difficult at times to deal with them alone. The first layer of guidance and counselling must come from their families, who should play a supportive role in addressing the mental health issues of the students and give them a nurturing environment where they can voice their concerns and address the issues that are bothering them. However, because of the strain on the social bond that modern life has created, it is often difficult for students to get counselling from their families, and their families often become the reason behind their stress and anxiety. In the Aachol Foundation survey, we see that family is often the driving factor behind students' suicide. In such cases, friends and education institutions must fill the gap and provide the students with the support they need.
Friends often become the first confidants of various problems that students face that drive them towards a quagmire of anxiety, stress, and depression. As such, the youth must be prepared to face these challenges of aiding their friends in times of need. There should be training programmes on mental health for the youth, which they can use for their benefit as well as the benefit of their friends. Various state and non-state actors that are working with mental health should create training programmes that go to educational institutions, and spread awareness about mental health and train students to tackle mental health challenges for themselves and their friends. Aside from trying to counsel a friend themselves, there is also a responsibility to advise them to seek professional support.
Then comes professional mental health counselling, which should be made easily accessible to students. In an ideal situation, all schools should have a dedicated mental health counsellor who can talk to students about their mental health challenges, and advise them accordingly to ensure their mental well-being. However, we are still a long way away from having such a system in place. There are a lot of organisations working with mental health, but counselling services are still few and far between. Most schools do not have any sort of counselling service. At the very least, the organisations that work with mental health should train teachers at every school in the country so that they can work as counsellors to their students. However, our teachers are already overworked and underpaid, and burdening them with the additional pressure of acting as mental health counsellors may just be too much. But the students sometimes already have a special bond with some of their teachers, and may open up to them in a way that they would not open up to a stranger. As such, training the teachers may be a good option.
We also need a national framework and dedicated programmes to prevent suicides so that this sorry state of affairs can change. Currently, we do not even have a national suicide prevention hotline, which is a basic necessity. There is a non-government helpline run by Kan Pete Roi, but not a lot of people know about it. The national helpline 999 should have suicide prevention services, or a new hotline may be instituted that will solely deal with suicide-related emergencies. The government's social welfare ministry and education ministry must run a joint programme to bring down the number of suicides among students. Right now, it seems as though these students are dying due to negligence from society. It seems as though we are not doing anything to help them.
Modern social realities have indeed given birth to various challenges that may abet suicides. Higher expectations from students and high social pressure to succeed in various metrics exert huge pressure on young people. This is a social reality that our society needs to deal with through social enterprises – both government and private. There needs to be a concerted effort to decrease the burden on our youth and listen to their problems intently, so that their concerns may be addressed, and they can be given proper counselling to prevent any more suicides from occurring. Training students and teachers, appointing counsellors or social workers to education institutions, creating a national helpline for suicide prevention, and creating a broad national programme addressing suicide may help with bringing down the suicide rates, and we should all view that as our ultimate goal.
Anupam Debashis Roy is an independent writer and researcher.