By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Mental health of Indian children and youth has been deteriorating, if ever increasing number of their suicides is of any indication. Girls below the age of 18 are more vulnerable than boys, while boys between 18-30 are more prone to fall in the trap. Since the entire future of individuals, societies, and the nations depend on the healthy growth of individuals below 30 years of age, the issue must not be allowed to deteriorate further.
Education and examination related stress is, of course, one of the major cause of rising suicides of our younger population, and PM Narendra Modi is trying to mitigate it personally through his “Pariksha Pe Charcha” programme, and now the Centre has asked states to keep his book “Exam Warriors” (2018) in all school libraries and educational institutions, in reality these are but only cosmetic and escape routes from really addressing the larger issue of deteriorating mental health of our youngers, for which India would need deeper understanding and a concrete plan of action.
In 2014, the year when PM Narendra Modi had come to power 899 boys and 821 girls below the age of 14 had committed suicides, as per the data of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB). In the age group 14-18, the number of suicides for boys was 4682 and for girls was 4548, which was even larger to 27,343 and 17,527 respectively for age group 18-30.
During the pandemic year 2020, suicides of girls below 18 were sharply increased to 6004, while there was little decline in suicides by boys to 5392. However, both the boys and girls in the age group of 18-30 were in great mental stress, and the number of their suicides were increased to 34,629 and 18,073. These were highest in any of the age group, showing that the younger of this age group were suffering from greatest mental stress.
The latest data released by NCRB just a few months ago in August 2022 for the year 2021, revealed suicides, both by girls and boys marginally declined to 5655 and 5075. It showed a little relaxation compared to the pandemic year 2020. Girls of this age group were still in greater mental stress than the boys. However, for the age group of 18-30, mental stress was even higher in 2021 than in 2021, perhaps due to second wave of the pandemic. Boys committing suicides in this age group were 37,941 and girls 18,588. Boys of this age group were under greater mental stress than the girls. It should also be noted that suicides in this ager group was highest compared to any age group revealing that youngers of this age group was undergoing the biggest mental distress.
It should also be noted that a total of 1,64,033 suicides were reported in the country in 2021 which is an increase of 7.2% in comparison to the previous year in terms of total numbers. In terms of rate of suicide, India reported a rate of 12 (per lakh population) and this rate reflects a 6.2% increase during 2021 over 2020. The number reported is the highest ever recorded in the country since inception of reporting of suicides by the NCRB in 1967.
In India, children in the age group of 0-14 years are 25.69 per cent of the population of the country while 26.3 per cent are in the age group 15-30 years. In absolute number about 37 crore youth are in the age group 15-30. Out of them only 4.13 crore were enrolled in education in 2020-21, and 10.19 crore were in job in 2020 and 10.23 crore in 2021. About 22.64 crore boys and girls in this age groups were without any employment or not enrolled for educations. Thus, the highest number of suicides and mental stress in this age group is self-explanatory.
In 2021, according to the NCRB data, as many as 13,039 students between 18-30 years of age hac committed suicides. The highest percentage of suicides consistently occurring in the young about 34.5 per cent between 18-30 years age group over the years calls for serious action.
One should not forget the post pandemic stress of this younger generation due to increased economic hardship and their fast changing social and online behaviour. Socio-political stress has also been increasing fast in highly communalized environment, and these younger are also surrounded by online dangers.
There may be many other reasons as to why our children and youth are experiencing this crisis, but many of them are not known due to lack of study and government will. Youth’s engagement with social media and online platforms are sometimes alleged to be a culprit despite its potential benefits in education and counselling. Since their behaviour and mental status are also shaped through interactions among neural, biological, social, contextual, and social systems, we need a deeper understanding of the issue, apart from alleging only the harmful effect of the online indulgences which does not provide right kind of material. It has also been alleged to reduce social interaction in physical mode and to increase loneliness and negative influences. Policymakers, educators, parents, caregivers et al need to play their parts carefully. The negative psychological outcome of these youngers is failure of all of us.
Obviously, India needs a well-designed comprehensive policy to prevent further deterioration of mental health of our younger generation. India needs a comprehensive national response to the problem. (IPA Service)