High suicide rate in TN is 'reflection of times we live in'

Last Updated: Wed, Mar 28, 2012 06:31 hrs

Figures released by the National Crime Records Bureau last year showed Tamil Nadu topping the list of states with maximum number of suicides.

Of the 1,35,599 people who had killed themselves in 2010 in India, 50,755 were under 29 years of age; and of this lot, 3,130 were not even 14 years old.

In fact, in Tamil Nadu, 240 suicides were because of failure in exams, with Chennai alone accounting for 23 such deaths.

But it is not the student community alone which is having trouble coping with life. According to NCRB, in 2010 over 4166 people took their own lives across the country because of love failure, and 588 of them were in Tamil Nadu, with Chennai accounting for 61 of them.

And as a state obsessed with topping examinations or scoring high marks, experts say that the period where student suicides peak is between March and through the summer months until results are declared. 

As for matters of the heart, experts say there is no designated period of suicide as such. Last week (March 5 ), an aspiring actor hung himself allegedly because the actor he was living with did not consent to marriage. A few years ago, many television artistes committed suicide because of failure in their love lives, forcing the industry to conduct counselling sessions.

Noted psychiatrist, Dr Vijay Nagaswami, says many complex factors are in play when people decide to take the extreme step.

"When people fall in love, a feeling of powerlessness goes along with it, especially when accompanied by a sense of loss. A lot of suicide is mediated by depression, or because not enough is happening in the other spheres of their lives," he said, adding that most families do not come up with the right reaction to someone falling in love.

"Communication is the key, and if the person is still berserk then a professional therapist should be approached," he added.

This year, schools are also walking the talk, and building bridges with students that go beyond special classes aimed at better grades.

On Friday, Anusha (name changed)  a class XII student studying in a corporation school in Shenoy Nagar was counselled by her principal Baktha Priya and ten other teachers in a group therapy of sorts. Troubled by constant fighting at home between her parents, Anusha was on the edge. After the talk, Anusha has gotten back to focusing on her studies, her school principal said.

Such initiatives are fairly new in corporation schools, say education department officials. From January 15, corporation school teachers have been asked to grade students into three groups: the very good, the average and the slow learners. 

"This is an effort at offering emotional support to the students, where they will be guided to go with their strengths. A slow learner will be encouraged to attempt to clear, and the average will not be pushed to aim for centum.

If anyone in the top group has other emotional problems, that too would be addressed," an official added.

This is the first time such an initiative has been put in place, coming in the wake of the half-yearly examinations.

A lot more needs to be done by society, feels Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, renowned psychiatrist and the moving force behind SNEHA, the only suicide prevention centre in the city to operate a 24x7 helpline. 

"Suicide rates in India, which were at 10.5 per one lakh population in 2006, have now touched 11.4 per one lakh population,” she added.

Twenty years ago, less than 8 out of one lakh attempted suicide.

In this ongoing exam season, the SNEHA helpline has already averaged five calls a day.

"The calls climb to 20 around the time exam results are announced,” said Dr Vijayakumar.

Tamil Nadu has done away with entrance exams for government engineering colleges, but parents and educationists
agree that the high pressure on students, especially in private schools, is very much a grave reality.

Madhuvanthi Arun, educationist and correspondent at Calibre Academy, disputes the perception that only private school students are pressurised.

"On the whole, the emotional pressure on students is humungous, be it a corporation, government or a privately run school. Parents should assess their children's strengths and point them to appropriate streams, not merely the popular ones. As  parents, we need to upgrade ourselves, and become realistic," she feels.

School principal Baktha Priya said the teaching profession today calls for skills that go beyond covering the syllabus.

"Unlike ten years ago, today even the poor want their children to get a degree. Our job today is tougher, since we have to prepare them for life, and impart soft skills -- on how to conduct themselves in a restaurant or office space and come to terms with set-backs like scoring five per cent less in the exams,” she pointed out.

C V Shankaranarayanan, a volunteer at SNEHA, says a few educationists have introduced awareness programs in schools well ahead of the exam season, but many more are still wary of organising talks on stress management (the word suicide is hardly used by SNEHA in its interactions).

"More schools should come forward," he felt.

But why is there such a bent towards suicide? Is it a reflection on Chennaiites' emotional quotient?

It's a reflection of the times we live in, said Dr Vijayakumar. 

"India is in a transition phase, journeying from developing to developed state status, and the distorted economic situation
(income imbalance) is a reality. Everyone today wants instant gratification, which never happens , be it in love or career," she added.

Dr Nagaswami feels there is 'no smoking gun' when it comes to EQ. One's personality drives one’s emotional strength, but he also felt that those who explore their feelings will be better placed to handle problems.

"Getting worked up may be a good thing – in moderation. However, when people are unable to solve emotional problems, and their immediate support system (like mother/father/friend) falters, then seeking professional counselling immediately will help," he added.

Experts say suicide is not a personal problem. The loss may be suffered most by the loved ones — but the larger picture points to suicide being a public health problem. And an economic one as well.

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