Suicides among Pakistani students are on the rise, recently 4 students committed suicides within a span of few days in Chitral a remote district of KPK just after the announcement of the intermediate (higher secondary school) results. According to the reports all four students committed suicide for not being able to achieve the grades, they or their parents were expecting. One student named Fareed Ahmed killed himself after getting 81 percent marks with which he was not satisfied. This tragic trend is not just alarming but raises serious questions about the state of mental health of our teenagers. The suicidal tendencies among students in Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, have been reported extensively and are well documented, governments in these countries have started to take this issue of student suicides seriously many non-government organizations work to help students to cope with stress and other factors that cause suicidal tendencies.
Situation in our country is totally different, suicides and mental health in general have never been taken seriously, and the issue of student suicide remains without any research to understand its causes. While availability of psychological counseling and guidance in schools remains a distant dream, parenting training is equally unheard of. The first and foremost thing is to understand what causes a youngster to annihilate his or her life in the prime of youth.
Why are students committing suicides?
What makes a student opt for the tragic course of choosing a permanent solution for his temporary problems i.e. choosing death over a troubled life? Students commit suicides because of the crushing stress that a youngster has to go through because of pressure of expectations exerted on him/her from multiple sides. Parents want their children to excel, teachers want them to win laurels for the school, and society keeps reminding them that success and guarantee for a secure future depends on the grades they achieve in the exams. In Pakistan academic reasons top the list of the causes of student suicides, academic reasons mean failures or perceived failures in achieving the educational goals setup by student for himself or the mile stones that parents expect their child to achieve.
The inability to cope with personal failure: a student works hard, devotes tremendous amount of his or her youthful energy and time for a target and when he falls short of his expectations he can’t accept this reality, he is unable the analyze what has happened, is overtaken by shock and disbelief and puts all the blame on himself. This false sense of an irreversible and irreparable loss pushes him to the point of snuffing out the candle of his own life.
The crushing burden of parental expectations: parents have the final say in determining the career path of a Pakistani kid in most cases if not in all cases. A typical middle class student in Pakistan must prove him smart enough to get admission in a medical or engineering college to become a doctor, engineer or a business executive in line with the aspirations of his parents. Parents set up goals for their child to achieve, the child has to achieve these mile stones set by their parents and if he fails to meet parental expectations he is made to feel as if he has betrayed them by not proving himself as brilliant as he was expected to be. This devastating stress of proving him brilliant enough to fulfill the dreams of his parents remains with the student throughout his student years, controls his feelings and actions and finally takes its toll on his life.
The intense pain of public humiliation: failure brings with it a stigma and feeling of humiliation. Students with a troubled conscience, when feel that they have failed themselves and have quashed the hopes of their parents, find it extremely painful to face their friends, family and peers. Dealing with this feeling of humiliation is beyond the capacity of these students who have never been independent or who have never known to be disobedient to their parents or teachers. These circumstances make these students feel like losers and failures; they can no more face their peers against whom they have competed, making the situation even more intolerable for the young susceptible minds.
What needs to be done?
A lot needs to be done on the part of parents, teachers, educational managers and state and society at large. We can no more afford to play the role of silent spectators, we as society will have to change the social conditions that are driving our children to kill themselves. Teachers need to take a special responsibility of liberating our students from the shackles of agonizing societal control being exercised in the name of parental expectations. We need to let our children be independent and allow them the room to set their own goals and pursue their own dreams. We will have to enable our children and teenagers to enjoy a happier and healthier life; we will have to save them from suicidal thoughts. we will have to make the following things happen
Developing the capacity to cope with failures: students must have the capacity to deal with bitter realities of life. Schools must have student counseling facilities to provide guidance and motivation to students. As first step student counselors must be appointed in each district, their responsibilities must include providing guidance regarding career choice, stress management, dealing with performance anxiety, crisis handling and motivation. Similarly students’ access to life skills learning and motivational literature and videos must be ensured.
Allowing more independence in choice of subjects they want to study and careers they want to adopt: Pakistani children need greater independence and freedom of choice. Teenagers must be enabled to make their own decisions regarding their own lives and their choices and decisions need to be respected. Adults especially parents and teachers must stop imposing their own will upon children and schools must create an environment that encourages children to discover themselves, identify their strengths and weaknesses and unearth their hidden potentials. Our education system and schools instead of functioning like a factory to mass manufacture “information- reproducing robots” must rather focus on enabling students to become their own goal-setters and goal- achievers.
Adopting healthier lifestyles: the life of Pakistani students specially those belonging to middle class profession-oriented families is that of endless tribulation an agony, being forced to study and excel at subjects which may not interest them truly causes great hardships for teenagers at a tender age, adopting a healthier life style with proper space for games, hobbies, outings etc can strengthen young people to take up challenges with greater confidence. Rigid routines and robotic activities focusing only on memorization of facts do no good to them. Better performance and better grades follow, research has shown, if students are not overburdened and preoccupied with stressful daily routine of cramming texts and finishing home works.
Parenting training for parents: parents need to be educated and trained about how they deal with their growing children. Parenting training is a must and some mechanism needs to be developed to educate parents to have realistic expectations from their children. Parents must be aware of natural inclinations and needs of their growing children. Instead of thrusting their own ideals, opinions and aspirations on children parents must create room for their children and help and motivate them to set up goals of their own. Tyrannical parenting and emotional blackmailing has no place in this age and time the sooner we realize the better it will be for our future generations. Positive motivation, encouragement and freedom of choice should be the core values of raising kids for our parents, these values can take us a long way in bringing up a happier and more successful generation.