On 29 January, in a virtual press conference titled "The Shocking Upsurge in Suicide Cases among University Students: The Liability of Stakeholders," organised by Aachol Foundation, it was revealed that 101 students from different colleges, universities and medical colleges died by suicide in 2021.
This study, as well as a senior citizen taking his own life and broadcasting his final moments live on social media has put the topic of mental health at the centre of everyone's attention.
This spike in the number of suicide cases has experts concerned. Tawhida Shiropa, Founder and CEO of Moner Bondhu, has shared her thoughts with The Business Standard on this pressing matter.
Study showed that uncertainty of the future, career-related issues and social pressure are the underlying factors that lead to frustration and mental health struggles among students. What do you think about these reasons? Do you think a young student who just started his/her life should be worried about the issues mentioned?
Surely, during the pandemic, our youth has gone through a lot of uncertainty, but we neither expected nor prepared ourselves to see such a gruesome picture of losing 101 lives.
Not all the students who had died by suicide had a sound, financially solvent family or were entirely bothered by the issues mentioned.
Sometimes what we see is not exactly what we need.
More than their socio-economic state of affairs, the lack of sympathy and empathy had led them to take such a decision. I believe a little touch of empathy could have changed their whole trajectory for a few of them.
Our youth has grown up under extreme pressure and competitive surroundings, where they are always required to prove themselves. In such cases, parents are usually blamed for creating such a situation. Though they love their children unconditionally, they forget to understand their sentiments and they keep comparing their children with others.
So, if the children fail to prove themselves once, they start feeling low and subconsciously pick up the habit from their parents of comparing and they constantly practice this abhorrent habit through the use of social media. Indeed, the social class structure is a contributing factor too.
We have not learned how to develop our emotions from our childhood, so when a challenging situation occurs, instead of handling that tactfully, we become emotional. And when we are not emotionally stable, it affects our relationships too, which we have observed among today's youth.
They tend to think whatever they are going through is the biggest problem on the earth. There is no argument that the problem is real in their lives, however, suppose we had the minimum emotional training then we might understand how to observe things tactfully. The pandemic has heightened challenges.
We did not know a pandemic was coming, and we lost 101 lives by suicide. What could we do to stop it?
It is not only about the pandemic. What if something bigger than a pandemic happens in our lives? How would we handle that situation? Would we just give up?
This is the message that I am trying to convey that we should emotionally support and train our students to deal with a tricky situation. Here, teachers and parents can play a vital role.
Sometimes it becomes hard to open up to your family. Still, the scenario is very different for teachers as they are closely connected to the students, even if, sometimes, they are not actively teaching. So, they have multidimensional roles to play, both as mentors and friends.
As parents are more likely to listen to their children's teachers, they can get involved personally and help to build a healthy relationship between the parents and children. So, I firmly believe and suggest that students can be and should be helped in such a situation by the teachers.
Once the students learn how to cope with their dark moments, they will also learn to deal with suicidal thoughts.
Is teaching the students the only way? Should we not also educate our surroundings to make their journey smoother?
Yes, we should. However, mental health struggles and problems remain a taboo in our country. We do not try to treat the disease, rather, we treat the person and eventually blame them. But this is not how we should work on mental health issues.
Hence, we should make everyone aware of mental health and break the taboo. Also, it is not something that can be done alone. Government and private organisations have a fair share of responsibilities, and they should work hand in hand to solve this problem.
It is a well known fact that what private organisations charge for one session is quite high. So, not all the students from schools and colleges can afford them. If the government supports them here and allocates at least one mental health specialist in each school and college, things will become much easier for students as they will have a sound knowledge about mental health from an early age.
It will be easier to treat them when they have matured enough through learning, and this way, it would not be a stigma to us anymore.
Also, public and private universities can collaborate programmes with private organisations, and I believe they can easily afford such programmes. As a private organisation, we are trying to fulfil our responsibilities as much as possible. We charge one-third for the students and post things in Bangla to educate people because the more people get engaged with mental health talk, the smoother the journey will be.
What is the mental health situation of our senior citizens?
Five percent of our patients are senior citizens. Three percent of them come of their own volition to seek help for loneliness and depression; others visit us as their children or relatives recommend them to come to us. They [their children] do not understand that taking a doctor's appointment or buying necessary things for them are not enough.
We need to spend time with them apart from those scheduled times. Otherwise, we are bound to face unwanted situations.
After 60, there is a tendency to suffer from dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Hence, regular checkups and taking care of them is also very much necessary.
After all these, we still need community involvement, but unfortunately, we have portrayed the old home concept in a bad light. Instead of thinking of it as a place of community gathering, we consider this a place for abandoned people. Rather than have our elderly citizens live alone, we could celebrate the 'old home concept' as an idea of togetherness. But because of our social norms, we cannot appreciate what we have without criticising it.
If we could change this concept of criticising, our senior citizens could have a better place in the community to live together and enjoy a happy life. Once something terrible happens, we become concerned and reach out to our parents, but by that time, things become way more complex than we can fathom.
So, taking care of each other should be our habit, not a responsibility.