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Government issued guidelines to prevent suicide among students

Published: 5th Oct, 2023

Context

Recently the Union Ministry of Education (MoE) has released draft guidelines titled ‘UMMEED (Understand, Motivate, Manage, Empathise, Empower, Develop)’, to serve as directions to schools for enhancing sensitivity, understanding, and providing support in case of reported self-harm and preventing suicides .

About the initiative:

  • The draft guidelines for schools to prevent suicide among students, prescribing in its ‘plan of action’ includes;
  • Setting up of wellness teams,
  • Orientation of teachers and family members, and
  • Immediate response to students exhibiting warning signs.
  • A school wellness team (SWT) may be formed under the leadership of the school principal, where each member is oriented in handling crisis situations.
  • The guidelines recommend an orientation a year for teachers and family members, to help build awareness around student suicides.
  • These orientations will be conducted by the schools for the capacity-building of various stakeholders.
  • Immediate response to a student exhibiting warning signs: The guidelines list the actions that may be taken by an individual at the school, or the member of the wellness team on coming across such a case.
  • Schools have also been asked to work towards building the capacity of all stakeholders.
  • Other recommendations:
    • To enhance students’ knowledge and encourage peer support,
    • Organizing activities on a regular basis for relaxing and reducing stress,
    • Providing channels for expression,
    • Compiling resources to seek support,
    • Integrating mental well-being in school functioning,
    • Creating a safe environment in school and beyond including vigilance at railway tracks, river banks, bridges, cliffs medical shops, etc.

Suicide Warning Signs:

  • Most suicidal youth demonstrate observable behaviors that signal their suicidal thinking. These include:
    • Suicidal threats in the form of direct and indirect statements.
    • Suicide notes and plans (including online postings).
    • Prior suicidal behavior.
    • Making final arrangements (e.g., making funeral arrangements, writing a will, giving away prized possessions).
    • Preoccupation with death.
    • Changes in behavior, appearance, thoughts and/or feelings.

Need for such an initiative:

  • Suicide is the leading cause of death among school age youth.
  • However, suicide is preventable. Youth who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress.
  • Parents, teachers, and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help.
  • Most important is to never take these warning signs lightly or promise to keep them secret.
  • When all adults and students in the school community are committed to making suicide prevention a priority-and are empowered to take the correct actions-we can help youth before they engage in behavior with irreversible consequences.

The Role of the School/Educational Institution in Suicide Prevention:

  • Children and adolescents spend a substantial part of their day in school under the supervision of school personnel.
  • Effective suicide and violence prevention is integrated with supportive mental health services, engages the entire school community, and is imbedded in a positive school climate through student behavioral expectations and a caring and trusting student/adult relationship.
  • Therefore, it is crucial for all school staff members to be familiar with and watchful for, risk factors and warning signs of suicidal behavior.
  • The entire school staff should work to create an environment where students feel safe sharing such information.
  • School psychologists and other crisis response team personnel, including the school counselor and school administrator, are trained to intervene when a student is identified at risk for suicide.
  • These individuals conduct suicide risk assessment, warn/inform parents, provide recommendations and referrals to community services, and often provide follow up counseling and support at school.

The Kota Story:

  • Kota, a city in Rajasthan, gained notoriety for a high number of student suicides, primarily among those preparing for competitive exams like IIT-JEE and NEET.
  • Reason for suicide: The suicides were often attributed to the intense academic pressure, rigorous coaching, and parental expectations placed on these students, leading to stress, anxiety, and mental health issues.
  • The Kota suicide story prompted discussions on the need for educational reform, including reducing exam stress, providing mental health support, and fostering a more balanced approach to education.

According to data, 15 students died by suicide in Kota in 2022, 18 in 2019, while the figure was 20 in 2018, seven in 2017, 17 in 2016, and 18 in 2015.

Way forward:

  • Pandemic's Impact on Mental Health: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health issues across communities, bringing attention to the neglected field of mental health in India.
  • Increased Budget Allocation: The National Mental Health Programme's budget has increased to Rs.134 crore for 2023-24 from a mere Rs.40 crore before the pandemic.
  • Long-Term Engagement Needed: Addressing the crisis requires a comprehensive, ongoing effort involving parents, educators, policymakers, and mental health professionals.

Conclusion

As the number of suicides among students is increasing, it shows that there is a lack of safe spaces, compassionate faculty, and individualized support for struggling students. The pressure, guilt, and helplessness they experience often lead to tragic outcomes. Thus, helping those students is the foremost requirement.

Verifying, please be patient.

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