A mental health expert said educational institutions must have psychological counselling programmes in place to help students deal with their issues in confidentiality. Every child has a different coping mechanism.
An average of 31 children died by suicide every day in India in 2020, according to government data, with experts underlining that the COVID-19 pandemic may have accentuated the psychological trauma faced by children to a great extent. According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, 11,396 children died by suicide in 2020, an 18 percent rise from 9,613 such deaths in 2019 and 21 percent rise from 9,413 in 2018.
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Family Problems (4,006), Love Affairs (1,337) and Illness (1,327) were the main causes of suicide among children (below 18 years of age). Ideological causes or hero-worshipping, unemployment, bankruptcy, impotency or infertility and drug abuse were other reasons behind suicide by some children. Prabhat Kumar, Deputy Director Child Protection, Save the Children, said COVID-19 and the resultant school closures and social isolation coupled with anxiety among elders have further aggravated the issue of mental health and brought it to the forefront.
"While we as a society are cognisant of tangibles such as education and physical health for building national human capital, emotional wellbeing or psycho-social support often takes a back seat. The successively increasing number of suicides among children reflects a systemic failure. It is a collective responsibility of parents, families, neighbourhoods, and government at large to provide a conducive ecosystem where children can look forward to realizing their potential and fulfilling their dreams for a bright future. Committing suicide, on the contrary, is an antithesis," Kumar told PTI. "Stigma attached to mental health and an abysmally low number of per capita mental health professionals demand urgent attention. COVID-19, and the resultant school closures and social isolation coupled with anxiety among elders has further aggravated the issue and brought it to the forefront. Save the Children calls for a collective action to nurture an encouraging and supportive ecosystem for children and youth," he added.
Commenting on the topic, Priti Mahara, Director, Policy Research and Advocacy at CRY - Child Rights and You, said from the very beginning of the pandemic, it was one of the major concerns that it might impact children's mental health and psycho-social well-being, and the recent NCRB data actually underscores the fear that the pandemic may have accentuated the psychological trauma faced by the children to a great extent. "As the NCRB data reveals, a total of 11,396 children (5,392 boys and 6,004 girls) have died by suicide in 2020, which accounts for 31 deaths per day or approximately 1 child committing suicide per hour," she told PTI.
"Children have gone through tremendous emotional stress and trauma due to home confinement and lack of interaction with friends, teachers or any other person in the position of trust due to prolonged closure of schools and limited social interactions," she said. Many of them have been through a hostile environment at home, many others have seen the demise of their loved ones and have faced the impact of fear of contagion and deepening financial crisis at the family level, she said.
Many children have also experienced huge uncertainty related to the completion of curriculum, exams, and results. "A huge number of children, especially the ones living under the shadows of multi-dimensional poverty, struggled with attending online classes and were majorly impacted by the digital divide, while many others suffered from over-exposure to internet and the social media and were subjected to online bullying and allied cyber-crimes," she said.
"All of these, compounded with an overall anxiety of the uncertainty of the future, must have been too much to bear for their young and tender minds," she added. Akhila Sivadas, Executive Director, Centre For Advocacy and Research, said alternative care and counselling models have to be developed in collaboration with key stakeholders and every effort should be made to take the learnings to a cross-section of society so that everyone takes the responsibility to curb this practice."
Mental health expert Prakriti Poddar, Managing Trustee at Poddar Foundation, said parents must understand how fragile their children's mental well-being is and be proactive in assessing it. "Teachers also need to be trained in identifying symptoms and patterns of mental issues. Apart from that, educational institutions must have psychological counselling programmes in place to help students deal with their issues in confidentiality. Every child has a different coping mechanism. Therefore, the counselling programmes must be flexible, to cater to the needs of each child individually. If needed, a student must be referred to a mental healthcare professional for timely intervention," Poddar said.