In recent years, India has seen great social progress. We have managed to amend the now infamous section 377 of the IPC, and the laws surrounding adultery. On 28th September the Supreme Court ruled that women of all ages can enter Kerala’s Sabarimala temple. These are just a few examples of the many fields of progress I see my country making and the joy it brings me is quite inexpressible, yet it is soured by the stagnation that one can notice in one of the other big issues that plagues us, the issue of mental health problems and teenage suicide.
The stigma that surrounds mental health issues in many social circles is perhaps one of the biggest causes for the tendency of teens to hide their issues from the people that could provide access to help. The thought of approaching their parents and telling them that they might be in need of a therapist can really terrify a young man or woman. They might fear that their parents will paint them with the same brush that they use to paint all the other victims of depression around them. They fear that they will be called lazy and weak and their cries for help will be dismissed as excuses to avoid work. This fear must have cost us tens of thousands of young lives, lives full of potential and lives that could have been full of mirth with just a bit of professional care.
Suicide was the biggest killer of men and women between the ages of 15 and 39 in India in 2016. Read that sentence again and let it sink in. The commonest cause of death for people in that age group was not automobile accidents or heart failure, but their own mind torturing itself.
This is perhaps not that surprising when you consider what the day of an average student is like. You wake up quite early after staying up late finishing homework for school, and with tired eyes and four hours of sleep you go to school, from where you return after getting caned for talking to your friends and if you are lucky you may have 15 minutes to have a quick lunch before being sent to the coaching classes that cost your parents a lot more money than they should have. After a few hours there you finally get back home, and hear your parents tell you that you do not spend enough time with them as you hurriedly try to finish your dinner so that you can go and do your homework because if you do it quick you might get an extra twenty minutes of sleep. After breaking your back working so hard to be successful academically, you give your exams and hopefully get a grade better than your neighbour’s child got back in 2009.This might
already sound stressful and hectic enough to make the most diligent person squirm uncomfortably, but imagine what happens when you don’t get good marks. What happens when the only thing that you have been trained to judge your value as a person by fails miserably? What happens when you are a better composer than Beethoven but you failed in class XIIth mathematics? How many potential Beethovens have we lost because society was more in mood for a potential Einstein?
What can we do to prevent this?
Perhaps the best thing you could do to reduce the rates of suicide and the torture felt by victims of mental health issues is reach out. Talk to your friends and let them know you’re there for them. Be warned though, making promises bigger than you can keep might just make things worse. Although I do struggle with them myself, I obviously am not representative of all people with mental health issues, but the times when one of my friends has offered to lend their ear and just listen to my troubles have been moments of unbounded acceptance and joy for me.
If you are a parent, let your children know that they are not sinners for feeling what they feel. Let them know that you are okay with them going to a therapist if they need it, and DO NOT PRESSURE THEM TO TALK. That would be very unhelpful for reasons that (I hope) are obvious.
My purpose in writing this article is not to shame parents or to criticise the cultural norms of the country (although that might need to be done some day). I write this solely to shed light on this issue people often seem to care too little about. The lives lost due to terrorism or mob lynching are numerous of course, but the numbers pale in comparison to this monstrosity. If you take away one thing from this article let it be a sense of empathy for those who struggle with these issues.