Student stress a silent crisis: Immediate, decisive action needed to nip rise in cases, say experts
In a week, at least four adolescents (boys or girls) reach medical experts in the city with depression or self-harming tendency due to relationship issues alone.
The Union ministry of education, earlier this month, issued guidelines to schools aimed at enhancing sensitivity and providing support to students struggling with self-harm. Surprisingly, this development did not receive the expected level of attention, despite a concerning surge in student suicides nationwide.
Suicide rates in U.P, while low in comparison with most other states and much lower than the national average (which is 12.0%), have gone up by 25% since 2020 (when the Covid pandemic struck India), according to data recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau. In just the last few weeks, Uttar Pradesh has recorded a handful of cases involving students taking their own life. Last week, the body of a Class 9th student was found hanging from an iron bar in a public park in Lucknow. In another such recent case, a Class 12 girl jumped into the Gomti. The suicide note was found later on.
According to experts, while psychiatric conditions can affect anyone, students stand out as one of the most vulnerable groups. Adolescence, a critical phase bridging childhood and adulthood, brings about significant changes in the brain, body, and social environment. Consequently, students become susceptible to various psychiatric conditions, with manifestations that include a rising incidence of student suicides, self-harm, and conflicts with teachers and parents.
Stress & Students: An Inside Look
Explaining the root cause of this concerning issue, Anugrah Edmonds, a mental health professional from Bareilly, said, “Student suicides and self-harm cases have increased, as have verbal conflicts between students and their teachers and parents. Previously, stress-related issues were mainly observed among students preparing for board exams, but now even secondary school students exhibit these symptoms.”
She added, “Their lives have become overly packed with school, coaching classes, and assignments, leaving them with minimal time for outdoor activities. This leads to feelings of desperation, hypersensitivity, and an unfortunate increase in disrespectful behaviour towards teachers and parents.”
Regarding the rise in stress, anxiety, and depression cases among students, Edmonds noted, “I used to encounter just one or two such cases per month, but now I find myself working with at least 5-6 students facing these issues every month.”
Dr Nisha Mani Pandey, a Junior Grade Professor in Geriatric Mental Health at KGMU, commented on this issue, highlighting the challenges students face today. She stated, “Students today have everything readily available, which immerses them in the materialistic aspects of life, from comparing cars to toys and possessions. This abundance can lead to an early absence of stress. However, when they enter their teenage years, they are suddenly confronted with the pressures of competition. Surprisingly, even trivial matters like who receives more pocket money can become sources of anxiety. It becomes a race to outdo their peers and indulge in conspicuous consumption, which itself becomes a form of stress. Furthermore, the pervasive influence of social media and exposure to harmful content can profoundly affect their mental well-being. At times, they struggle to find proper guidance to navigate these challenges.”
Significantly, a recent survey conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) revealed that 12-13% of students in India are grappling with psychological, emotional, and behavioral conditions. Likewise, a UNICEF report titled “The State of the World’s Children” shed light on the issue, stating that one in seven young people between the ages of 15 and 24 in India experiences poor mental health, including symptoms of depression and disinterest. Shockingly, only 41% of those surveyed felt the need to seek support when dealing with mental health challenges.
Commenting on these distressing findings, Lalita Kumari, a health and wellness teacher at a military school, said, “In recent months, I have noticed a growing awareness about mental health among students, largely influenced by social media. However, students often use terms like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ loosely. We must provide them with accurate information. I recently had a student incorrectly equate ‘suicide’ with ‘depression.’ I make it a priority to clarify the distinctions between sadness, temporary down moments, and genuine depression.”
According to the Journal of Indian Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, anxiety, social withdrawal, and dysphoria collectively affect a staggering 51% of school-aged children and adolescents. Additionally, approximately 5% of school students grapple with clinical depression, as per the Journal of Education and Health Promotion.
Navigating Mental Wellness
When asked about ways to tackle this mental health pandemic, Kumari said, “Starting from Class VI, students should receive education on mental health, and we must ensure it’s genuine awareness, not mere ‘pseudo awareness’. Furthermore, addressing the shortage of counselors in schools, particularly in tier II and III cities, is essential. At the very least, schools can organise seminars and discussions to promote awareness.”
In a similar context, Dr Pandey emphasised, “It’s crucial that we foster awareness about how to effectively support our children. We must remain attuned to the subtleties of ‘smiling depression’ and genuinely delve deeper to understand our kids’ well-being. Equipping teachers with the necessary training is paramount. We should encourage a culture that encourages them to seek assistance when needed. Additionally, counseling helplines can play a valuable role in this regard. Secondly, nurturing a healthy lifestyle is equally vital for maintaining sound mental health.”
Adding to her perspective, Dr Syed Sajid Husain Kazmi, a Lucknow-based clinical psychologist, said, “As per World Health Organisation, one in seven (14%) individuals in 10–19 years age range experiences mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, substance abuse, addictions, self-harm, and risk-taking behaviours, portraying an alarming situation that needs immediate intervention. Scientific literature suggests interventions like sleep hygiene, healthy and balanced nutritious diet, physical exercise, cultivating problem-solving skills, following daily routine and avoiding procrastination has a positive outcome on the mental health and well-being of students.”
He added, “Channelising emotions through effective communication, strengthening the peer support and family support system helps prevent self-harm and suicidal tendencies in students.”