A look at how students can tackle depression and return to their normal selves.

The recent spectrum of student suicides in the 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 name as the “city of student suicides?”

Why is it that youngsters are becoming so vulnerable and sniffing out their precious lives? What makes them take this drastic step that is disastrous not only for them but also for their families? 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 whose focus of control remains external to the victims.

I would like to focus this article on what the youngsters and their families can do to prevent this catastrophe, in small nuggets of do's and don'ts, which, if practised, can go a long way in saving precious lives.

It is important to understand that people in the age group of 18 to 25 are highly vulnerable to pressure. They have just moved on from the adolescent phase, when it is normal 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 teenage to the adult stage, a new set of norms start 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 focussed, 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 often becomes paying lip service when it comes to making a choice of the professional education 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, and at other times, doing and pursuing what my 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 pressure, the student 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 timely help does not come in, it can prove fatal.

Symptoms

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 (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night and or sleeping through the day)

Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself

If five or six of the symptoms listed above persist for two weeks or more and are bad enough to interfere with ones' studies, work, and 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 them are also away from home and will be having problems of adjustment in the new environment. Signals of communication to family and friends echo these sentiments and the 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 burns a hole in the parents' pocket.

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

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

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

Differing value systems of parents and children. The generation gap has always existed, but the rate of change is now phenomenal owing to technology and globalisation.

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

Financial crunch.

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

Constant comparison with other siblings who are doing well.

What should students feeling depressed do?

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

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

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

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

Remember if one door closes, another opens up.

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

What can friends do?

If you notice there are depressive symptoms in a fellow student, report it to the college authorities and parents.

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

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

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

What can parents do?

As mentioned, depression sets in when pressures mount and the child is incapable of coping on his own. Watch out for the symptoms of depression. It is an illness, and unlike physical illness, signs of mental illness are very subtle.

Do not be too forceful and too critical or push off the matter.

Allow the child to communicate, listen with empathy, and understand what the youngster is undergoing.

A lot of handholding and support will have to be given to help the child sail through the course.

If that does not work you may have to give the option of discontinuing the course.

Even if you are saying, “Come back, leave the course alone,” watch your body language and tone...do you mean what you say? Youngsters can easily pick up the mismatch between what you say and what you mean.

At this juncture, it may become important and critical to tell your child that he/she matters more than the money spent on him/her.

What appears to be a pin prick at first can fester, and the human mind can blow off just like a balloon that is loaded with more air than it can handle. Take steps to prevent this from happening, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Sabita Prasad

Life coach and psychotherapist

It is important to understand that people in the age group of 18 to 25 are highly vulnerable to pressure.