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When students get depressed and show suicidal tendencies...

CARING HANDS: If you notice depressive symptoms in a student, listen to him/her without criticising. This will help the person to vent out feelings of fear and guilt. Photo: K. Murali Kumar
CARING HANDS: If you notice depressive symptoms in a student, listen to him/her without criticising. This will help the person to vent out feelings of fear and guilt. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

The recent student suicides in prestigious, professional colleges of Bangalore has stirred up a hornet's nest, to say the least. Bangalore has already earned itself the name ‘Suicide capital of India.” Does it need to get a new nomenclature — the ‘city of student suicides?'

Why is it that youngsters are becoming so vulnerable and sniffing out their precious lives like blowing out the flame from a lighted matchstick? What makes them take this drastic step that is so disastrous not only for them but also for the family they leave behind? What needs to be done and how can this be prevented? There has been any number of write-ups on how the education system should be and what the college authorities should do. These are very important factors, but are factors whose focus of control remains external to the victims. I would like to focus on what the youngsters and their families can do to prevent this catastrophe, by way of small nuggets of dos and don'ts. If practised, they can go a long way in saving precious lives.

It is important to understand that those in the age group of 18 to 25 are highly vulnerable when it comes to pressures. For they have just moved on from the adolescent phase, where it is seemingly okay to behave sometimes like an adult, and sometimes like a child, and the onus of decision making is not wholly on the individual. When the youngster crosses the bridge from the teenage to the adult stage, a new set of norms starts formulating. The individual is now a major and the accountability of one's own actions takes on a new meaning. Added to this, being on a par with peers becomes highly focused, be it achievements, success, and/ or handling relationships.

Though there is a lot of talk on how one needs to get into a career that one is passionate about, this is often mere lip talk when it comes to making a choice of the professional education that a person needs to get proficient in. Firstly there is a desperate need to conform to what others are doing, and secondly there is a deep rooted belief that in order to be successful, one needs to get into specific professions only.

Sometimes it is parental pressure, at other times, doing and pursuing what friends do becomes addictive, and little thought is given to long-term effects of such impulsive decisions.

Added to this is the high stakes involved in monetary investments that run into lakhs of rupees to get through such courses. Once the student realises that the course opted for is not his / her cup of tea, and is unable to cope with the pressure, he/she is trapped, unable to stay in or get out. The student starts getting into a depressed mood, and if there are no checks and balances to ward it off, and if timely help does not come in, it can prove fatal.

Signs and symptoms of depression:

Loss of appetite, or constant pangs of hunger

Continuous low mood or sadness

Feeling hopeless and helpless

Low self-esteem

Feeling tearful

Feeling guilt-ridden

Feeling irritable and intolerant of others

Having no motivation or interest in things

Unexplained aches and pains

Lack of energy

Disturbed sleep (finding it hard to fall asleep at night and or sleeping through the day)

Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself.

If 5-6 of the symptoms listed above persist for two weeks or more and are bad enough to interfere with one's studies, work, social and family life, it is a red signal, do not hesitate to seek help.

The mind and body of such an individual is weak and vulnerable. Most of such individuals are also away from home and will be having problems in adjusting to the new environment. Signals of communication to family and friends echo these sentiments, and often-used words are: “I am useless, I am a failure, I am feeling guilty, I am a burden on you “and so on. The emotion of guilt runs high as the stakes involved are also high. If the student moves out of the course it is a hole in the parents' pocket.

Other factors that add to the cup that is already brimming with woes are:

1. Lack of opportunity to talk and vent it out with parents.

2. Fear of being put down and ridiculed by them and lack of support from family.

3. Differing value systems of parents and children. Generation gap has always existed, but the rate of change is now phenomenal due to technology and globalisation.

4. Parents preaching a set of value systems that they may not be practising.

5. Financial crunch.

6. Parental disharmony and their inability to see eye to eye in familial issues.

7. Constant comparison to other siblings who are doing well.

What should students feeling depressed do?

1. Find a confidante you can trust...could be a parent, extended relative who is influential in the family circle, a friend or an empathetic faculty member.

2. Do not bottle up or try to push things hoping that it will somehow settle down.

3. Deal with guilt, do not carry the burden, you are important for your parents.

4. Seek a counsellor who could help you deal with anxiety and also open up communication channels between you and your parents.

5. Remember, if one door closes, another opens up.

6. Avoid spending too much time on your own. Getting addicted to TV, Internet is an escape mechanism to avoid contact with others, and comes in the way of your ability to deal with the issues at hand.

What can friends do?

1. If you notice depressive symptoms in a fellow student report it to college authorities and parents.

2. Help him /her express what he/she is feeling without giving any advice on what he/she should do.

3. Listen without criticising, that will help the person to vent out feelings of fear and guilt.

4. Till help comes by, keep an eye on the whereabouts of the individual, and whenever possible do not allow the individual to be alone.

(The author is a life coach and psychotherapist)

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