Siddharth Pichikala was an introvert, yet a bright student of IIT, Hyderabad. Hailing from a well-to-do and reasonably educated family, Siddharth was not like others of his age.
He was confused, frazzled by academic pressure and unable to cope up with the sheer pressure his pedagogues and peers mounted on him. In the wee hours of October 29, Siddharth wrote a message to his friend informing that he was ending his life and jumped from the hostel building, only to be found in a pool of blood, lifeless and raising many questions.
Ironically, it was the third suicide at IIT Hyderabad within a short span of nine months!
Several suicides have been reported from prestigious educational institutions from across the country, of late.
According to latest available data from National Crime Records Bureau, a student commits suicide every one hour in India, it being the second most populous country of over one billion population.
It has the highest suicides rates among those aged 15-29 and account for over third of global suicides among women each year. Academic stress is a major reason for growing suicide tendencies among the youngsters in India, the pressure continues beyond the college.
Stories of successful students securing high salaried jobs make the headlines and play a significant role in parents pushing their children to earn the same. So, they land up in coaching factories, where they cram for exams to get into elite institutes like IITs.
Students are made to follow draconian rules and study schedules that leave them depleted and depressed. Once they crack the entrance, they feel that the journey is over, but actually the journey begins from there.
That is what they do not understand at that time, they tend to enter into new world of dreams in which they may be prepared intellectually but not prepared psychologically.
Many toppers of the schools and colleges tend to feel they are worthless and less competent because all the toppers flock there and you become one among them which leads to identity crises leading to anxiety.
All the children, who get admission in IIT are good, maybe best in their school or towns but when they land at IIT, they realise that the remaining are better than them. They have to compete with the best in the country and often some of them lose their way. They feel disheartened and dejected.
Every parent wants his or her child to be a topper in their class and expecting further, the child should get admission in IIT and likewise.
When one enters the IIT, there is not only expectation from the parents that the student will perform better, but the student himself has a higher self-expectation being a part of the IIT.
In India, all parents feel if their children are brighter academically in comparison with the peers, then they have only two options – either engineer or doctor – but their aptitude and interest do not match and there arises a crises leading to depression.
For them life seems to be miserable and uninteresting. Every student who committed suicide at such a renowned institute dealt with severe pressures of various kinds, which are interlinked. Not getting a proper recruitment, examination stress and depression are some of the major factors.
So, who should be blamed for these suicides, improper educational system, terrible stress on students in such reputed colleges or the students who desire for higher studies in such institutes and with high expectation?
Coming to the campus issues related with suicides in IITs, a large percentage of children come from small towns. Even though they are good at their subjects, they are not well versed with English. All subjects at IIT are taught only in English.
They often find it difficult to follow the lectures. Though IITs, realising the problem, have special course in English for these kids, still many children lose their confidence and become recluses.
Such kids also find it difficult to handle computers as it was not accessible to them in school or at home and take time to get on par with students from big cities.
This also causes inferiority complex in them. This leads to isolation from others when the communication is the problem to maintain the relationship with them.
In IITs, students are so obsessed with studies that they have little time for each other. Living cocooned lives on the campus fails to establish human touch.
Friendships are not deep as the undercurrent of competition is always there, which do not give scope for having belongingness leading to loneliness and self-humiliation which throws one into the depression. Lack of compassion among them on the campus also makes them vulnerable to risky behaviors.
When a child is in trouble, he doesn’t know whom to go for advice. Children facing depression hardly ever seek help directly. Counselling centres are there, but troubled children never go there.
Even management and lectures should make them aware that visiting a counsellor for mental health issue is just like visiting a physician for cold and cough.
The social stigma for seeking mental healthcare still prevails in the flourishing IITs. The whole scenario would lead to students getting attracted to drug abuse or committing the suicides.
So, when we explore and understand the probable reasons behind the suicidal tendencies among students of premier institutions, we could help them overcome that phase of delinquency and self-denial.
In order to catch hold of the present situation, one should understand everyone – parents, institutions and the students. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression need to be addressed without stigma in schools and colleges by inculcating the spirit to speak out the problem and encouraging one to seek out professional help when crisis arise.
Parents should be educated to imbibe and foster feelings of sensitivity towards their children, and to identify their interests and abilities before of chalking out career plans.
Glorifying IITs and NITs as the only quality institutes by the media should be stopped. They should turn the arc lights to other unsung institutes; ease the stress on IITians, which helps the parents to tame their expectations.
Change in the mindset of society is necessary to stop overhyping of IITs and attaching weight of expectations to the young minds.
India is already known to produce labour that does not meet international standards because of the broken higher education system.
The lack of job availability and failure to create skills among the youth will simple increase the frustration among students, forcing them to take the drastic step of ending their lives. Hence, it is time of red alert to modify the system.
Proper guidance system needs to be established and mentor mechanism should be developed. If any student gets deviated from the regular course of behavior, he or she should be encouraged to seek professional help and as a prevention strategy they should be self-equipped with positivity, wellbeing, good self-esteem and mental relaxation. Every life is important, it should not be lost because of the guilt of failure.