Try Googling ‘Suicide Tamil Nadu’. By the time you type the ‘a’ in Tamil Nadu, the search engine throws up disturbing suggestions like ‘suicide tips in Tamil’. It’s a widely known fact that Tamil Nadu ranks a notorious second in the number of suicides reported per year (16,122 in 2014; 853 student deaths according to the National Crime Records Bureau). But looking closely at the suicide trend after the death of three college girls in Villupuram, it has come to light that student suicides are not restricted to Board Exam time alone, and stories about college students committing suicide are often reduced to tiny news items.
On February 27, a college student in Tiruchy hanged himself as he was accused of stealing a mobile phone. On February 17, a student in Virudhunagar district self-immolated after he was taken to task on disciplinary grounds. In October last year, two students who had come from smaller towns took their lives at IIT-Madras.
A pattern emerges from the data — several college students who commit suicide fall under certain categories: they hail from smaller towns, they come from weak economic backgrounds, and some of their parents may have even sold their land or mortgaged their jewellery for the sake of educating their children. “Students from rural areas are brilliant in academics, but they lack knowledge about interpersonal relationships, social life and the diversity here,” says Saras Bhaskar, a counselling psychologist. “To rectify this situation, there has to be a proper orientation programme which will make the transition to college life easier.”
Christina, a student counsellor at Loyola College, concurs. “We insist that in orientation, there should be group formation and group activities — let them mingle with other students. Once they form a group, there won’t be too many problems,” she says. “But when they begin to feel they don’t belong in this place or college, that’s a serious concern. Such students strongly feel like outsiders and wait for people to talk to them.”
Another issue is that many students have a lot of free time. If college hours are 8.30 am to 1.30 pm, they have the rest of the day to themselves. “Without a proper group, they start drinking or use drugs,” adds Chrisina. “A neuro-pathway gets created in a way that they are always out of reality.”
Saras Bhaskar recalls a case when a student’s roommates came to her with a problem — their friend was isolating himself for long periods. “He was in a depressed state and didn’t want his parents to know,” she says. Bhaskar advises counselling for parents too, while Christina adds that parents need to allow children to mingle with everyone, face situations, and help them live through failures.
Prevention of suicide should be a holistic approach that involves students, the institution, parents and teachers, they opine.