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Mangaluru: Teen Suicides: Are we really listening?



By Dr Lavina Noronha

Mangaluru, Jul 24: India, the largest democracy is slowly becoming the suicide capital of the world with an alarming increase in suicides especially among the youth.

Mental health professionals are perturbed by the fact that of the three cases of suicide reported every 15 minutes, one is committed by a teenager between 15-19 years.

While cosmopolitan cities and big towns witness highest number of suicides, rural areas are not immune.

It has been estimated that for every suicide there are at least 13 attempts. We know that most youngsters who attempt suicide do not really want to die but they are crying for help and suicidal behavior is just an avenue to communicate their distress. Timely attention could help curb repeated attempts and thus save lives.

Academic pressures and failure seems to be the top most cause for teen suicides in India and relationship issues are the second most common.

Why are our youngsters distressed?

First of all, our education system itself is seriously flawed. Exam-based curriculum and results-driven agenda of our schools is often a source of stress for students. Obviously students do not want to be the record breakers in schools that are fixated on cent-percent results. We have to challenge such schools to change their thinking. Additionally, undue pressure is sometimes displaced on students by teachers who are pressurized by the management to achieve impressive results.

Recently, one school detained 40% of its 9th graders as it did not want these students to break its impeccable record of 14 years when they reach grade X. This is just one of the many institutions of learning which teaches students how to make a living but fails to teach them how to live.

There is no denying that some students take it easy throughout the academic year and wake up at the eleventh hour. In the month of February they realize that their notes are incomplete and there’s just not enough time left to catch up and get ready for the exams. The pressure either manifests in a number of bodily symptoms like asthma, indigestion, fever, and headaches or in psychological symptoms like anxiety, fear, worthlessness, hopelessness, depression and so on. It is very disturbing that we now have more teenagers on psychiatric medications than ever before. There are many general practitioners who have been generously prescribing anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs to teenagers for what they call ‘academic stress’ or ‘exam-related stress.’ Besides, it is not too difficult to procure over the counter medications from some unethical pharmacists directly without a prescription. This easy access to tranquilizers, sedatives and even psychotropic drugs in some cases increases the risk for troubled teens.

Fear of letting the family down could be quite embarrassing as well for teenagers who are sensitive. Kishore had failed the physics exam and had decided to jump off the bridge on his way home. Luckily, his plan was foiled by his classmate who alerted the teacher and got him timely help. Students- middle school and high school need to feel that they are loved because of who they are not because of the scores they fetch. How many parents are able to say to their children- “You are my son/daughter and I love you very much. Even if you score less or fail an exam, you will not be disowned?” If parents can practice unconditional love, irrespective of their ward’s success or failure in academics, most of our children will be mentally healthy.

Kavitha and Savitha were best of friends. When the SSLC results were out, Savitha had failed and Kavitha on the other hand had passed with flying colors. Savitha did not dare to go home for she was almost certain her dad would kill her. When she talked about killing herself, Kavitha decided to give her friend company. Both walked into the local store and bought a potent pesticide and after writing good bye notes to their parents, consumed the same. When school authorities found them, Kavitha had already breathed her last. Savitha was rushed to the hospital and survived the attempt.

There are parents who attempt to fulfill their unfulfilled dreams through their children which often push the children over the edge. “Please don’t chew my brain, mother” Grenville retorts every time his mom tries to tell him he needs to be a doctor and he needs to run her clinic after her. The problem with some parents is that they want their children to be successful not happy. Children and parents need to realize academic success is not the only yardstick to succeeding in life. We have ample examples of great personalities who have not completed even their S.S.L.C. Don’t we?

The TV serials and movies glorify suicide as a viable option when love fails or when there is a crisis. For impressionable young minds, it looks like the best solution to their problems as depicted in the media. Often suicides are glorified by the media and are given undue publicity which attracts youngsters. Jeethan was an average student who could neither excel in studies nor in extra -curricular activities. He was sick and tired of seeing pictures of his classmates- the athletes and the chess champions in the news papers and his parents taunting him for his inability to make them proud. So, he wrote a note and hung himself. Next day his photograph appeared in the local newspaper!

In most situations, curricular burdens are heavy- regular classes, coaching classes, CET, NEET classes and a host of others geared towards academic excellence. On top of these, some students have extra-curricular loads to bear, especially when these are not of their choice or liking. These competitive exams and packed study schedules are driving the young ones over the edge and are ruining many young lives.

It is not always the parents’ or the teachers’ fault when it comes to pressurizing students to perform. Some students also have unrealistic expectations and are sometimes too hard on themselves. Vidya, a second P.U.C. student killed herself when she stood second in the mid-term exam. From grade one to PUC she had been number one in her class and being second by two marks was simply unacceptable by her own standards. Striving for excellence is a good thing no doubt but obsessive craving for excellence needs to be curbed early on in order to make our children realistic.

Relationship break ups, one-sided infatuations or being rejected by someone sometimes drive sensitive youngsters towards self destruction. Many teenagers are hooked on to social networking sites for friendships and for validation of their feelings. The ninth grader Andrea had connected with someone from Kolkata online and after about six months of chatting, the guy she was involved with flew down to Mangalore with a return flight ticket and promised to take her along. On a specified date, she packed her bags and reached the hotel where he was staying. When a 60+ year old man answered the door, she was in for a surprise. She realized he was not the handsome 19-year old she was ‘in love’ with on Face Book. Luckily, she came to her senses, alerted the hotel management and got him arrested. Feeling humiliated and embarrassed, she tried to put an end to her life. Thanks to supportive parents and timely professional intervention, she is safe today.

Children need outlets to express their emotions especially anger. They keep them suppressed until a breaking point and it becomes just too late. In most teenagers, suicide is just anger turned inwards. When they cannot revolt against adults- teachers, parents or other authority figures, they take it out on themselves. Anger and frustration often finds expression in self-injurious behavior in teenagers who engage in cutting and blood-letting. Teens who indulge in self mutilation are at a higher risk for suicide as well.

There is a direct relationship between alcohol, drugs and suicide. It has been estimated that teenagers who drink alcohol or use drugs on a regular basis are 6 times more likely to attempt suicide than those who don’t abuse these substances. Many youth in distress use substances to self-medicate which increases the risk of suicide.

Additionally, substance abusers with a history of violent, aggressive outbursts are more likely to engage in suicidal behaviours.

Contrary to the common belief, suicide among teenagers is not always an impulsive act but a well thought out, premeditated one which makes it preventable. In 8 out of 10 cases, there are a lot of warning signs and cues before the act. If parents, teachers, and peers are educated about these warning signs, many lives could be saved and the students can receive the help they need if caught on time.

What are some of the warning signs?

• Be vigilant and take note of sudden changes in behavior- sleep, eating patterns, mood swings, and so on. Sudden changes in temperament have to be taken seriously- Crying spells or anger outbursts paired with isolation, preoccupation, avoidance of contact with family are red flags. At the same time, a usually quiet, morose teenager suddenly looking perked up or happy needs attention as well.

• Write-ups, poems, drawings, paintings with death themes have a deeper meaning and should be looked into. Even passing threats like ‘I wish I was not born at all’, ‘death will solve all my problems’ etc often indicate a desire to call it quits. If you have a doubt, ask questions. When it comes to suicide prevention, being nosy is acceptable as it could possibly save a life!

• Giving away their possessions is an indication that they have lost interest in life and therefore they no longer need the stamp collections, coin collections, autographed cricket bat, prized stationary or other things they previously valued.

• Sudden drop in academic performance, lack of interest in television, recreational activities, preferring to be alone are sometimes signs of an underlying emotional distress.

What can you do?

Allow them to pursue their dreams don’t put your dreams on their tender shoulders. Parents, you need to push them gently when they stop, encourage and motivate them if you can. If you push them too hard they fall flat on their faces. Do not force them to achieve what you couldn’t.

• Encourage youngsters to share their feelings and make time to truly listen to them so they don’t have to look for support in wrong places from wrong persons. It is really paradoxical that the so called social networks and the many gadgets of communication have made our children lonelier than ever before.

• “Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst,” is a good adage to live by and to raise your children. It is necessary to prepare children for failures in life. This way, if and when the worst happens they are prepared to face it head on. Every youngster needs to realize that instant gratification is not pragmatic when it comes to life.

Mangaluru scenario

Susheg Charitable Trust in collaboration with the post graduate department of Psychology, St. Agnes College and the post graduate department of social work, St Aloysius College, conducted a survey on mental health and well-being of 1016 students between the ages of 14-25 years in Mangaluru. Preliminary analysis of the results indicate that 4.52 percent of students surveyed have a history of past suicide attempt and a significant number (6.79%) of students have suicidal ideation. It is unfortunate that our smart city does not have a system in place for those in distress. Providing a lifeline of emotional support to such persons to prevent suicide is therefore, the need of the hour.

Our Response

St. Aloysius College, St. Agnes College, Roshni Nilaya and a number of concerned citizens from all walks of life have come together under the aegis of Susheg  Charitable Trust to explore the possibility of establishing and operating Suicide Prevention Lifeline to prevent suicides in and around Mangaluru. The plan is to put a system in place where persons in distress can call and receive the needed assistance over the phone.

A team of professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, lawyers, counselors are involved in providing training to the lifeline volunteers.

About 50 volunteers are trained already in responding to suicidal callers and a few more batches are planned in the month of July and August. If you are interested in volunteering for the lifeline, please get in touch with us at susheglifeline@gmail.com

Would you like to help?

We need your benevolent support to move forward. Below are our account details:

Account Name: Susheg Charitable Trust-Susheg Lifeline
Account Number: 520101022731532
IFSC Code: CORP0003506
Corporation Bank
Narmada Building, Falnir Road
Mangaluru- 575 001

If you would like to collaborate with us or for more information, please contact anyone from Mangaluru Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

Roshan Monteiro: 8073852946- rosmonteiro.is.@gmail.com
Dr  Lavina Noronha: 9449830186- lavnoronha@hotmail.com
Sr  Marie Evelyn A.C.: 9449105344- marieevelynac@gmail.com

Comment on this article

  • Dr Mohammed Guthigar, Suralpady, Mangaluru

    Sun, Jul 30 2017

    Congratulations Dr Lavina Noronha for writing an excellent article which is very apt. In the changing socio economic situation Managing Teens is crucial and challenging for parents and the teachers . Hope Susheg trust with the help of all the stakeholders would make a beginning. Let us all work together in resolving the issue.

    DisAgree Agree Reply Report Abuse

  • John M Dsouza, Mangalore/Attavar

    Tue, Jul 25 2017

    Congrats Dr. Lavina for the well written article. Hope the parents take note of it and take corrective action.

    DisAgree Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • HENRY MISQUITH, Bahrain

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Low self-esteem, unable to handle criticisms/expectations from people around.I believe people are more depressed because they try to do things to prove themselves to others, instead of focusing on what makes them happy.In some cases, can be relationship failures, anxiety about future, comparing ones own life with others!!! Nice article, keep up the good work.
    Thank you Dr.Lavina

    DisAgree Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • Max and Jessie Rasquinha, Mangalore, Houston/Dallas, texas

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Suicidal deaths are prevailing in every society and in every country. India is not an exception. The democracy is part of the freedom to speak, to share, to publish and to act, and therefore democracy should not encourage to take away their precious life from the surface of this God given earth.

    Suicidal episode particularly in India has so many chain of reasons attached. Over population is one of the main causes where people have no value in any society because we have too many people to take care and nurture. No one has any time for anyone any more. Added to the over population, the lack of good Educational opportunities, lack of good job prospects and also resultant impacts on individual life has a great deal share the ultimate consequences of personal disappointments in living standards is all part of the problem.

    In a socialistic pattern of society in India, it is sad that when the population is virtually quadrupled from the time we received our freedom from the British, the rich has become richer and the poor has become poorer, and when the population compounds each year, the abnormalities are very visible. Our young men and women, when they lack in proper education, go thru major problems of securing a suitable job. Even if they are well educated, the society does not guaranty them a suitable job of their choice to blend themselves well in the mainstream of life in India.

    Lack of prospects abroad, particularly in the Middle East, has also become part of the emotional problem because in the past tens of thousands of young men and women could think of Middle East as part of their haven for better prospects where they could earn much greater income that could be despatched to the home land with a bigger rate of exchange. Millions of homes in India have prospered becaue of the jobs in the Middle East, which jobs are no longer prevalent because of the stagnation of Middle Eastern economy and their own over-population problems with lack of education.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • Olga B Noronha, Bejai, Mangalore

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Congratulations on your well-presented article on Teen Suicides, Dr Lavina!
    Kudos too for your initiative of starting a Hotline for suicide prevention in Mangalore. I am proud to be one of the trained volunteers. May many more join this force so that such tragedies can be prevented. The need is so great !

    DisAgree Agree Reply Report Abuse

  • Antonio DSilva, Kuwait

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Teen Suicides: Are we listening?

    IS THERE ANYONE TO LISTEN?

    The home is the next womb in this world to which an infant exits from the mother’s womb. In an IDEAL world a home would mimic the mother’s womb to a certain extent; provide security, warmth, nourishment, emotional support and lots of developmental opportunities and most of all have a MOTHER present at all times to deliver all these requirements. Can maids or baby sitters replace mothers?

    We understand people need money. Yes, some people really need the money which they have not. There are others who do not even know how much and why they need it and then they surrender their bastion called HOME to the care of outsiders who they pay a miserable salary and expect them to replace the womb; can it ever happen?

    I am sorry to disagree; we cannot blame schools and other educational institutions; they simply have mushroomed all over on the market principles of demand and supply. And like our market place they have only one objective in mind: MONEY!

    An infant is akin to a block of clay if the potter is around to understand and nurture the shape this block would/should take. Instead you abandon this block of clay and then come a few years later with wads of money and try to shape it on another potter’s wheel when it has lost most of its elasticity, is it possible?

    Fortunately, the suicide rate is not much if everyone introspects into his/her homes and accepts whether or not these are fertile to nurture our infants into responsible and healthy adults. I say ‘fortunately’ because there are some of us who are not brave enough to take that extreme step or those of us who are so thick skinned to let anything affect our carefree attitude which sometimes is a blessing in disguise.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [1] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Every College / Institution should have a Counseling Officer ...

    DisAgree [2] Agree [5] Reply Report Abuse

  • Beowulf, Mangalore

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    No wonder the relationship issue is the second most reason for suicide. I think it may be also true for adults.

    When it comes to relationship issue we Indian behave in an immature way. Most if not all parents in india discourage teens having any relationship with opposite sex. What adults need to realise is that falling in love and breakup are part of life. Parents keep the children so protected from any relationship until they get them married mostly to coercion. Then realise that most of them are incapable of handling the real situations in a relationship.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [4] Reply Report Abuse

  • shashikala Ashwath Ekkur, mangalore

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    yes ma'am what you have written the true fact .

    DisAgree Agree [4] Reply Report Abuse

  • Mangalurian, Mangaluru

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    The situation is bad.

    But are the school pressures / parental expectations the cause of depression or trigger points to take the extreme steps? I am of the opinion that some people are naturally predisposed to certain conditions.

    Having gone through periods of depression myself, I think a good starting point might be to go to bed by 10 PM. In my opinion, a prolonged deprivation of sleep can create the situation for the person to get into depression. Most students continue studying beyond 10PM, especially in preparation for the exams.

    The use of the social media to communicate with one another and/or TV also keep the young people away from hitting the bed early enough.

    Coming back to the school pressures: I have been an advocate of a complete disassociation of secondary school results from the tertiary entrance requirements. This way there will be far less pressure on the young people to prove to the system that they are good enough.

    But, as the author has mentioned, the school managements are keen on good grades, as this translates into better business for them.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [8] Reply Report Abuse

  • Elwyn Goveas, Valencia

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    I request all students life is a long long way to go.Many people who failed or neglected by society has done so many discoveries and handled so many critical business.The person who has topped also one day grow old as you.So do not take life seriously.Please think we can do much better still.Enjoy whatever life gives you.Please be happy.Request parents not to pressurize your kids.Please respect them even if they fail.Failure is not the end the road to success passes through a lot of obstacles and failures.BE HAPPY.PLEASE BE HAPPY.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [6] Reply Report Abuse

  • Sr.Severine Menezes, Belur/Bangalore

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Congrats Prof. Roshan and Dr.Lavina for your new venture to save our youth. God be with you in your challenging mission.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [4] Reply Report Abuse

  • Dr. Ben Rebello, Mangaloe/ Sunkasale

    Mon, Jul 24 2017

    Thank you and congrats Dr. Lavina for writing a timely and very useful article.
    Hope everyone concerned will benefit from it.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [9] Reply Report Abuse

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