Suicides are cries for help, we must not ignore them

Suicides are cries for help, we must not ignore them

Why are India’s young being pushed to take their own lives? Know the reasons.

EditorialUpdated: Sunday, April 30, 2023, 11:29 PM IST
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The recent uncharitable joke made around the suicide note of a teenage daughter of a professor, narrated by none other than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, evoked disgust and disbelief that something as solemn as suicide could even be joked about. However, it led to a renewed discussion in many circles about the spate of suicides, especially among India’s youth. As stories of death by suicide or suicide attempts go around in the mainstream and social media, there is growing concern around the phenomenon, a social curse as it were. Yet, the response of the society cannot be to ignore the varied causes which push people to take their own lives, or to make light of such attempts.

This is particularly urgent as the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which releases data on suicides, showed a disturbing increase of 7.2% in suicides in 2022 over the previous year. The pandemic years 2020-21 were cruel in many ways and registered high suicides by people, from daily wage earners and farmers to students and women. Even in the rate of suicides, India reported 12 per lakh of people, which is nearly 6% increase over the previous year. Across all categories of people, five states – Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, and Karnataka – account for nearly half of all suicides reported in the country. The ‘reported’ nature is important because police stations, which record suicides or attempts to suicide, treat these as accidental deaths.

Farmers’ suicides have been foregrounded in the last decade and governments have been compelled or shamed to provide some relief measures though the implementation has been patchy and, therefore, not impacting on the suicides in a major way. In terms of numbers, daily wage earners and the self-employed form nearly half of all suicide acts or attempts. And close on the heels came India’s young. When the statistics are parsed by age, they are startling. Indians in the 18 to 30 years age group accounted for nearly 35% and those between 30 and 45 years of age accounted for 31.7% of total suicides; a significant proportion of these individuals were students. In 2022, as many as 13,039 students died of suicide — and these were only the reported ones.

Why are India’s young being pushed to take their own lives? The reasons are many, as identified by psychologists and criminologists, but the ones that are repeatedly recorded include loss of jobs, unemployment, failure in examinations, and unrequited or complicated love lives. This is significant to take note of, not only by families and communities but also by governments both in states and at the centre. Young Indians are taking their lives in a personal act of desperation but the circumstances — lack of jobs, unemployment, high pressure examinations and so on — are the outcomes of policy decisions and programmes of governments. To be honest, governments cannot merely record suicides or suicide attempts and pass them off as individual acts of desperation.

This is what previous governments attempted to do with farmers’ suicides which were clearly linked to the uneconomic nature of farming and the prevailing agrarian crisis. The present-day governments, both at the centre and in states, must not be allowed to get away by blaming individuals who are pushed to take their own lives. While personal provocations may force a few to do so, a large number are victims of the peculiar socio-economic conditions they find themselves in. And, therefore, measures must also come from the larger macro conditions. The Modi government must address the unemployment issue with greater seriousness and sensitivity than it has thus far in its nearly nine-year uninterrupted tenure.

Besides the lack of jobs, academic failures, relationship issues and substance abuse rank as reasons for suicide in the young. Suicide notes left behind by students are indicators of how messed up the education system is which puts enormous burden on children and adolescents to be part of the rat race and beat the best. The response has to be at the macro and policy levels such as introduction of supplementary school exams in Chennai which has been shown to reduce suicides in school students. Governments elsewhere should deliberate and adopt similar measures.

A suicide, even a threat of suicide, is often a cry for help and care in mental health. This is well known. What it must now trigger is a rush of measures, in educational institutions and outside them, to address mental health concerns of India’s youth. Without a policy response to the increasing spate of suicides, India is losing the edge of its famed demographic dividend.

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