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A negative attitude is a silent killer

Many of today's young men and women are easy victims of depression; some take the extreme step. A team of five reporters of The Hindu spoke to families of suicide victims, their classmates and college authorities in an attempt to understand what drove the youngsters over the edge. It interviewed psychiatrists and counsellors to find out what makes Bangalore the `suicide capital' of the region, and what is being done to save those who are vulnerable. The second and last parts of the analysis will be published on Thursday and Friday.

BANGALORE, SEPT. 7. In February, Victoria Hospital conducted autopsies on 22 suicide victims, all aged below 18. Most of the victims were girls; it was just before the 10th class and pre-university examinations. On August 25, the city woke up to news of seven suicides within 24 hours.

Ruby's story

Not all suicides by students are related to examinations and their results, or to the muddle over admissions to professional colleges through the Common Entrance Test (CET). Take the case of S. Roopa (19), called Ruby, who was a second year MBBS student of Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences. She had a scholarship because she came from a scheduled community and was a "good student," according to the faculty.

Ruby's family said she was paying a subsidised fee of Rs. 3,000 a year. A few weeks before her suicide on September 2, the college asked her for her parents' income certificate along with a caste certificate. Her father, Swarnachandra, who works in a Union Government agency, said: "My monthly income now is about Rs. 8,000 and some classmates told her it may mean she may not eligible any more for a scholarship. She was very worried and anxious.'' After her death, the college authorities said she would have continued to get her scholarship; the income certificate was only for the records. Apparently, she was worried her parents could not afford the normal fees of Rs. 11,750 under the government quota.

Peer pressure

The pressure on a youngster to excel, the constant adjustments adolescents have to make in their lives, interpersonal problems with peers, siblings or teachers make them anxious, according to K. Mohan Isaac, Professor of Psychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS). "The steady increase in suicides among those in the school and college-going ages is prevalent all over the country. The very young often don't seek timely help for their problems as the channels may not be accessible,'' he said.

"Suicide prevention programmes in schools and colleges should focus on promoting a positive attitude towards life. Many tend to focus on negative aspects,'' Dr. Isaac said. NIMHANS conducts a programme every year for college teachers so that they could be more perceptive and deal better with their students.

`Sahai,' the suicide prevention helpline of the Medico-Pastoral Association, a voluntary organisation working in the field of mental health, has taken up a unique initiative. Sahai will train students from five colleges in the city to be `suicide prevention volunteers'; they will help their peers who may be going through an emotional crisis. The project will begin September 25. "These students will be trained to counsel their friends, as youngsters open up more to friends than outsiders. We have already begun training some students in Mount Carmel College,'' says Ellen Shinde, Counsellor at the Medico-Pastoral Association.

(To be continued)

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