New Delhi: A parliamentary committee has recommended the Health Ministry to make provisions under its 24x7 helpline to call up youth who fail competitive exams and counsel them against suicide. The committee recommended the ministry to strengthen ways to track factors causing suicides through its National Suicide Prevention and bring their numbers down.
"The committee is pained to observe that students and unemployed youth accounted for the highest number of suicides in India. The Committee notes that while more students committed suicide than farmers, the latter's suicides were termed a national crisis. However, suicides by students hardly caught anyone's attention and were dealt with on a case-to-case basis," it said.
Prioritise mental health
The committee said the government should prioritise mental health awareness and education campaigns to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
"The committee recommends the ministry to make provision under its 24/7 helpline to telephonically connect with youth who fail to qualify for competitive exams like UPSC-CSE, NEET, SSC, JEE, by few marks and counsel them against committing suicides," the report said.
Drawing up mental health plan for children, youth
The committee also acknowledged the National Suicide Prevention Strategy (NSPS), which is a comprehensive plan that aims to reduce the number of suicides in the country by 10 per cent by 2030. The committee asked the government to design mental health care services for children, adolescents, and young people, and rope in experts trained specifically to understand such people's needs.
"There is also a lack of comparable data and evidence on the mental health problems affecting children, adolescents and young people. The Committee, therefore, recommends that in the NMHS-2, specific provisions should be made to generate evidence and data on mental health and psycho-social well-being of children, adolescents, youth and caregivers to understand the magnitude, trends, patterns and the prevalence of mental health and psycho-social problems among children, adolescents, youth and caregivers in India," the report said.
Dedicated counsellors in schools under 'Manodarpan' initiative
The panel also recommended forming a dedicated cadre of counsellors in all schools under the 'Manodarpan' initiative. School management committees should be encouraged to have inclusive learning spaces focusing on students' social and emotional learning, it said.
The committee noted that most of the issues highlighted by the National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 have remained almost the same even in 2023. There is still a great scope to improve the treatment gap that results from the lack of mental health professionals, weak mental healthcare infrastructure, inadequate and inequitable access to mental health services, stigma and discrimination, the report said.
Not enough survey, conducted with limited scope
The committee also observed that NMHS-2015-16 was done only in 12 states out of 36 states and UTs in India, and covered only about 40,000 people a tiny sample considering the population of the country. It said the survey relied on self-reporting (and not clinical analysis) by the interviewees, which can be subject to recall biases and under-reporting due to the stigma associated with mental health. The survey was limited to collecting data on certain specific mental disorders, potentially overlooking mild or moderate mental health issues like emotional breakdown, etc. that may still require support and intervention, it said.
The panel noted that the survey also failed to take into account vulnerable populations, such as homeless individuals, prisoners, and those living in institutions, which may have led to underestimating the prevalence of mental disorders. The committee recommended the Health Ministry to address these issues in its next such survey and conduct a comprehensive study of mental healthcare landscape in India.