World Mental Health Day 2018: Parents must be proactive in understanding and assessing how fragile their children’s mental well-being can be.
By Neerja Birla
A powerful and resilient survival instinct is the most primal of our instincts. No matter how challenging life gets, we live in eternal hope and will do anything and everything to survive. Suicide victims, on the other hand, see the idea grow from a germ to an overwhelming philosophy that defeats their ingrained survival instinct and promises relief and emancipation from the misery of their lives.
Not too long ago, a 14-year-old girl committed suicide by jumping from the eighth floor of her building in a Mumbai suburb. Neighbours saw it happen live and even shot videos of it. It was a horrific tragedy that shocked us all. Many online games like the dreaded Blue Whale Challenge and the Cutting Challenge have also played havoc with the minds of youth the world over and driven them to suicide.
The co-relation between mental health disorders and suicides among Indian youth is a chilling, shocking one. Up to 50 per cent of mental, behavioural and psychological problems have their onset during adolescence. India has the highest rate of student suicides in the world. Every hour, a student commits suicide in India.
Adolescents everywhere face a range of issues—racial, sexual or religious discrimination; low self-esteem; body-shaming; sexual challenges; emotional issues; family-related problems; exams-related pressures; monetary hurdles and substance addiction. Their complicated eco-systems are easily afflicted by behavioural, emotional, learning or mental disorders, ranging from depression to bi-polar disorder and intellectual disability to disruptive behaviour disorders. Some of these may lead, in their extreme forms, to suicidal tendencies.
In this modern age, mental illnesses and suicide need to be treated with sensitivity and compassion. We need to start listening, caring and doing something about it.
Parents, teachers and society at large must become equipped to spot and red-flag signs of suicidal tendencies in adolescents—a sudden decline in academic performance; variations in behaviour and mood; outbursts of anger and hostility; an overwhelmingly negative or pessimistic approach to life; disciplinary issues; drastic changes in sleep patterns or appetite; sudden withdrawal from family and friends; and talking, surfing or writing about taking one’s life.
In India, parents often go into denial mode when it comes to their child’s mental health, believing that “my child has no such problems”. This attitude must go. Parents must be proactive in understanding and assessing how fragile their children’s mental wellbeing can be.
The processes by which we prepare our teachers for 21st-century education must also focus on elevating their skills and emotional intelligence, so that they can handle inter-personal relationships with students more empathetically. For example, before scolding a child for disruptive behaviour, teachers could use innovative skills to analyse the reason behind such behaviour.
Also, educational institutions must have psychological counselling programmes in place to help students deal with their issues and develop effective coping mechanisms in a safe and confidential environment.
Encouraging adolescents with suicidal signs to talk may save their lives. Those who oscillate between thoughts of “struggling to live” and “wanting to die” need help. If they don’t seek it themselves, we must help them do so. Most mental disorders are treatable. Getting timely help, however, is crucial. A counsellor or psychologist, and if necessary, a psychiatrist can help kids struggling with mental concerns to come to terms with their issues and set them on the path to recovery.
We need awareness, commitment and action to prevent suicides and increase awareness around mental health. Only if all the stakeholders in society work collectively, can we make a real difference.
(The writer is founder and chairperson, MPower.)