Mary Jessica Nadar, 16, of Mumbai; Rupali Shinde, 14, of Thane; Reshma Dhotre, 17, of Mumbai; Neha Sawant, 11, of Dombivali; Rakhi Dinkar Pagare, 20, of Nashik; Swati Balgude, 16, of Hingoli and 32 other young women from other parts of Maharasthtra are now mere statistics.
In separate incidents across the states, but through the month of January alone, these young women hanged themselves unable to handle the stress in their lives. Left grappling with the tragic loss, their families are traumatized and numbed by the void their daughters have left behind.
Yet, such tragedy is not confined to these 38 households alone. The horrific number of suicides committed in the same month of January touches 66 with 28 boys in the similar age group of 11 to 20 years having taken their lives.
The general response to the deaths pegs the blame on academic pressure fuelled by parents and teachers. However, psychologists, behavioral scientists and counselors think otherwise and feel parents and teachers should not be persecuted for this "suicide virus".
"Usually the blame during such times is directed towards the academic curriculum. This is wrong. These suicides are not preplanned ... [they are] what we term impulsive suicides; a sort of childish rejoinder to parental censure. Often a harassed mother in anger blurts out, 'You will all know my worth when I'm gone.' The suicidal act could be a response to that," explains Dr Dilip Panniker, a practicing psychologist and psychotherapist. As a group facilitator, Dr Panniker has trained with the Indian Society for Applied Behavioral Science (ISABS) and has a deep understanding of group processes and dynamics.
Adds Dr Shubhangi Parkar, Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, and Chief, Bombay Drug De-addiction Centre, G.S. Medical College and King Edward Memorial hospital, Mumbai, "Children don't have the adjustment power of adults. During difficult times, like board examinations, the pressure to perform is evident. When they grow up the pressure will be in terms of employment, adjustment with in-laws, raising their own children, and so on."
|Here's How You Can Help Your Child
How to identify suicidal child?
1. Difficulty concentrating.
2. Decline in quality of schoolwork.
3. Complaints about physical ailments such as stomach aches, headaches, or tiredness.
4. Giving away favorite possessions.
5. Change in temperament or recent dramatic personality change.
6. A disciplinary crisis.
7. Writing, thinking, or talking about death or dying.
8. Altered mental status (agitation, hearing voices, delusions, violence, and intoxication).
9. Changes in eating and sleeping habits.
10. Withdrawal from friends and family and disinterest in normal or previously enjoyable activities.
11. Drug and alcohol use.
12. Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, boredom, and restlessness.
How can you help?
1. Listen and allow the person to express his or her point of view.
2. Discuss patiently about such feelings;
3. Do not address about reasons to live immediately.
4. Restore confidence in the person that people care and want to help.
5. Social adjustment is crucial in children to prevent suicide
6. A focus on parental problems.
7. Enhancing environmental support especially at home, school & recreational situations.
Problems commonly seen in children with suicidal behavior:
1. Peculiar thinking styles
4. Poor reality understanding
5. Difficulty at problem solving
6. Poor adaptation of the environment
Dr Parkar believes the answer doesn't lie in reducing the academic syllabi but in encouraging the child to be tolerant, learn to accept pressure and still enjoy life.
She goes on to narrate the case of a parent who would switch off the TV news as she felt that the continuous barrage of child suicides would have a negative impact on her daughter.
Although she admits the ill-effects of sensationalizing such news by the electronic media, Dr Parkar says, "Cutting off children from such exposure is non-productive for they will get to hear about it from their friends. Our children need to be strengthened and not to be made highly sensitive."
Observes Sunita Raut, a Delhi-based behavioral scientist who divides her time between Delhi and Stockholm, "In India, the pressure starts building up from the age of three when children are sent to tuition classes! Besides, unknowingly, the stressed out parents in their attempt to provide the best for their children, pass on their own frustration to their kids. In fact, by the time a child is in the teens, unknowingly s/he has built her/his own pressure ...ready to explode at the smallest provocation."
Raut adds, "The Indian youth also self-stresses on performance as they have become very materialistic. By the age of 20 they want to own a Honda Citi car. They assume that only if they perform at academics will they be able to own such luxuries."
Take the example of 11-year-old Neha Sawant, who was training to be a dancer and had participated in several reality shows. Neha was asked by her parents to take a break from dancing classes as her studies were getting affected. When her parents left for work, the child hanged herself from a curtain rod. Neighbors of a 19-year-old woman of Thane, who had hanged herself from the ceiling fan in her bedroom, attribute the suicide to parental objection to her friends. The girl took her life a day before her mother's 50th birthday. The grieving parents haven't ventured out of their home ever since.
"At present, we are pressing panic buttons - panic reporting, counseling and so on - trying to find instant solutions. It is too premature to pinpoint any one reason as to why children are taking this recourse," Dr Panikker points out.
Experts state that along with communication, parents and teachers need to listen to the child's inner, unspoken fears, apprehensions, understand the turmoil. According to them this does not require 24x7 vigilance. Children in the throes of adolescence go through emotional changes and need to be reassured with parental love and attention. This can be managed even when both parents are working.
The girl child is likely to be more ill at ease and burdened with stress because of cultural expectations. Society expects the girl child to achieve a lot while bottling up her emotions. While it is accepted that boys express their resentment, girls are not meant to display feelings of annoyance or irritation. Besides girls hold themselves more responsible for family ties and societal assessments. So when they fail to achieve their goals, they sometimes take the extreme step, explains Dr Parkar.
Changing lifestyles are also held responsible for the rising number of suicides. Within the nuclear family structure, there is curtailed interaction between family members, leaving youngsters with fewer caring persons, such as aunts, uncles and cousins, to share the lives and thoughts with. Today the urban youth has only their parents or friends to reach out to when he or she wants to exchange confidences.
So how should parents and teachers handle the situation? Advice from the professionals is simple: Teach the youngster how to handle pressure and to appreciate life because it is precious and beautiful.
And always remember that there is no shame attached to seeking a counselor's advice. In fact this must be done promptly whenever there is doubt. Life is, after all, short. Not responding to such developments wisely will only invisibilize it, which has unfortunate consequences sometimes. There is today a tragic emptiness in so many homes because the silent cry of despair remained unheard.