Hyderabad: Rahul Binggumalla, a student of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Hyderabad, was found hanging in his hostel room and the police investigation revealed that the second year MTech student killed himself due to placement and thesis pressure.
It was not an isolated incident. Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana and the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh have reported many such incidents in recent times.
Rahul's case highlights the pressure of studies at the educational institutions and how some students succumb to it.
A native of Kurnool district in Andhra Pradesh, Rahul wrote in the suicide note that the institute should not force students to complete the thesis. "If he is exhausted, he will do more research on suicide and ultimately his research will succeed. Because of this, I did smoking and drinking to come out of the pressure but I could not," he wrote in the note which police retrieved from his laptop.
In 2019, IIT-Hyderabad saw three suicides and in all the cases, students cited academic pressure, peer-pressure and depression as reasons for taking the extreme step.
M. Anirudh, a third-year mechanical and aerospace engineering student, ended his life in January.
Mark Andrew Charles, a second year masters student and a native of Varanasi district in Uttar Pradesh, hanged himself in July. He was depressed over poor academic performance. He wrote in the suicide that he felt the world does not treat well those who do not succeed in life.
Pichikala Siddharth, a third-year student of computer science, died by suicide in October. The 20-year-old jumped off the third floor of the hospital building. Before taking the extreme step, he sent emails to his friends stating that he lags in studies and is afraid of failure in making a career.
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, known for several leading educational institutions and also best coaching centres to train students for country's top professional courses, account for a large number of students' suicides in the country.
Data collated from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that more than 3,600 students committed suicide in Telangana from 2014 to 2021.
Stress of study and peer pressure are stated to be the cause of a large number of suicides.
Charan Teja Koganti, consultant psychiatrist, KIMS Hospitals, Kondapur, told IANS that these days a lot of students are coming to him with anxiety disorders, depression and panic attacks due to academic pressure.
"Unfortunately these cases are only increasing with each year. According to data by NRCB , nearly 12,526 students in India committed suicide between 2019-2021. This pressure is not just with academics but also often related to physical appearance, body image issues, cyberbullying, performance in extracurricular activities, social interactions, cultural standards, friendship or any romantic relationships," Charan Teja said.
He continued: "Today, students live in a super competitive world where everyone is trying to be perfect or excellent to achieve success in life. This adversely affects the ways students view success. Students who perform poorly in academics often receive harsh criticism and are subject to constant comparisons by family, teachers and friends.
"Parental pressure was once the main cause but since the pandemic I see a shift where parents are little relaxed about academics and are more concerned about the overall personality development of their children.
"But students have self-induced pressure and constantly compare themselves with their fellow students sometimes even with a stranger on social media. Also schools enrol students in way too many programmes at such an early age and it's difficult for some students to cope with."
Silpi Sahoo, chairperson, SAI International Education Group, said that it is sad to see the degree of pressure put on children for marks.
"NEP 2020 emphasises on raising the happiness quotient in children so that we can raise a happy country in future. At school level, we should not standardise the learning approach as it leads to loss of creativity, boredom and lack of concentration".
"It is important therefore to have tailor made instructions to meet the needs of children and develop an interest in learning at school and at home. We need to engage wellness counsellors at schools to have regular interactions with children as well as parents."
Anitha Rayirala, Consultant Psychiatrist, Amor Hospital, Hyderabad, said: "The fear of exams, absence of proper preparations and planning, comparisons with others, pressure from teachers and more importantly from parents, fear of failure, anxiety and depression due to inability to cope up will drive the students to commit suicide."
Advising students to just work hard and not obsess over results, Rayirala recommended a strategy for students to de-stress: "Proper planning and preparation, proper revision, taking breaks in between, good food, sleeping well, listening to music will decrease the stress."
Charan Teja underlines the importance of teaching about warning signs of depression, stress and anxiety to students as a part of mental health education in school curriculum.
"We should train students about dealing with failure, coping skills and other skills which can prepare them for life's challenges. Train the parents, wardens and teachers to recognise warning signs of suicide in any affected student and get professional help immediately," he said.
Jini Gopinath, clinical psychologist at YourDost, one of the leading mental wellness platforms, cited a recent study which shows that 56 per cent of millennials reported good mental health levels while 44 per cent are dealing with a variety of mental health challenges.
"It is most certain that there has been a rise, simply because Gen Z mostly looks for quick fixes and wishes things to change instantly. When they understand that their call for help is not heard, these patterns become more prominent," Gopinath said. He pointed out that suicide rates among primary and high school students are the highest.
A recent NCERT study conducted in 2022, states that 3.8 lakh students across the country have also identified frequent mood swings as an area of concern across grades, gender and types of schools. As many as 81 per cent of the respondents reported academics as their cause of anxiety.
Gopinath continued, "Most of the people in this generation are smart and when all toppers come together, the problem that arises is the newness of what it means to compromise. Pressure builds and the students make sure they go to all extent to emerge becoming the first rank holder. Among them, those who do not make it among the top rankers end up having issues of under confidence, and negative thinking patterns, and are open to major risks."
He added: "Gen Z is also vulnerable as they live in virtual space, which means they are open to multiple triggers. Their dependence on social space is more, and feelings of aloofness and loneliness started focusing on these individuals' lives. This also resulted in social disengagement where they preferred being their person with their own set of recreational activities."
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