12 suicides have occurred over the past two years

The task force, appointed by the Ministry of Human Resource Development to study the spate of suicides in Central government-funded technical institutions, has found that 12 such incidents have occurred over the past two years, and 18 students attempted suicide in 26 institutions.

Seven of the 12 suicides were of students who belonged to the reserved categories: the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Classes.

In its report submitted to the Ministry, the task force made recommendations based on the current practices for suicide prevention and mental health promotion. It suggested that the Ministry appoint an empowered committee to ensure that all recommendations were being adopted with rigour and seriousness.

The primary mandate of the task force, chaired by M. Anandakrishnan, was to study the increasing occurrences of suicides among students at Indian Institutes of Technology, National Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management.

“Even if the number is low in comparison to the total number of suicides, each case becomes high profile because of media attention,” he said.

Focus shifted

Speaking to The Hindu, task force member and psychiatrist Lakshmi Vijayakumar said that for students, the focus had shifted from making a career choice to the ordeal of “preparing for IIT.” Every student who stepped into an IIT was usually a topper. However, subsequently, the ‘averaging’ factor set in — the move from being the topper to being one among many could be disorienting. Though the majority bounced back, some could be negatively impacted.

The report says a lot of burnout also happens while students prepare for the entrance exams, further affecting the subsequent academic performance. Furthermore, homesickness, new-found independence and parental pressure to perform continuously, fuelled further by the student’s own ambition, all kick in together. Again, the majority of students manage to adjust themselves to this within six months. But a small fraction is trapped in a vicious loop that makes them unhappy. Another small percentage may have a history of illness and may take the extreme step of attempting suicide, especially when the first setbacks occur in their studies or in personal relationships.

More than half the institutions that responded to the task force did not have a fulltime counsellor. Only 10 of the 24 institutions had scope for students to self-declare mental health problems, says the report.

Consequently, Dr. Anandakrishnan said, the task force recommended that each institution have a dedicated system to cater to the mental health and counselling needs of its students. Multiple stakeholders, including parents, must be involved. It has come out with instructions on the structure of the counselling centre/service. Every institution should establish a mechanism to handle suicidal behaviour and crisis management, besides organising sensitisation and awareness programmes for the faculty and establishing a protocol for responding to media queries about suicides.

The empowered committee should establish a database of incidents of suicides in these institutions.

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