The tragic death of young Bollywood shining star actor Sushant Singh Rajput has left millions in shock. Once dazzled by the charismatic acting, his fans are now shocked by his suicide. Found dead in his Mumbai residence on Sunday, the actor was on the path of sparkling success when he suddenly cut short his life-allegedly due to depression. Ironically, his last movie ‘Chhichhore’, in which Sushant played a bearded middle-aged man revolved around a college student who tried to kill himself to escape humiliation for failing an exam. Watching Sushant's motivating role as the boy’s father in ‘reel life’, one could hardly imagine him taking his life in real life.

In Pakistan, the incidents of suicide in public; particularly in students are alarmingly high. On June 7, a student of Pakistani origin in the renowned Havard University committed suicide after failing to overcome depression caused by prolonged isolation at his apartment after lockdown imposed in the country to control the spread of novel coronavirus. There are numerous other examples where Pakistani students studying abroad have to deal with homesickness, immense depression, and fear of falling out leading to their suicides.

Local students are no exception; where they are treated more like ‘Gladiators’ from the ancient Roman Empire fighting for their ‘career’ in an arena. Winning is first and living is last. They go through traumatic experiences throughout their education years. Several develop psychiatric problems; many take their lives; only a few look for help.

Every year, the Inter Board Committee of Chairmen (IBCC) results are followed by agonizing news. To escape humiliation, many commit suicides. The modes of suicide, however, varies. Some students jump into deep waters, others take sleeping pills and laying down on a train track.

Despite all this, nothing seems to jolt us into the reality of the suicide crisis our country is facing. In a country of 220 million people, there are less than 500 qualified psychiatrists. The number speaks volumes about the importance, if any, we give to the mental health in Pakistan. The dearth of psychiatrists, their inaccessibility, and the cost of treatment deter many for taking professional help even if they break the societal pressure.   

Without government due attention to the surge of suicide amongst students in Pakistan, we will keep on losing our near and dear ones.

“Surviving one’s child suicide is a pain with no remedy. The misery of life never ends,” said a mother whose son took his life last year because of failing in his final exam in the MBBS. “As parents, where did we go wrong?” She asks like other parents who have also lost their children to suicides.

Pakistan is facing a real, tangible, and undisputed suicide crisis. However, like many other issues, we sweep it under the proverbial carpet. Just like it took us thousands of infections and numerous mortalities only to realise that Covid-19 exists. Similarly, the government is downplaying on this crisis as well; turning a blind eye towards the matter. If there is any strategy; it is denying the crisis.

The ‘winning-at-all-cost’ attitude infused by parents, teachers, and schools on students subject them to massive emotional burden; leading to their mental illness.

Parents and teachers must realise high subjects’ scores are not the only indicator of a champion. Every student is unique. Marks in Physics does not affect one’s child's artistic abilities. Engineers and doctors are not the only ones happy; children are not bound to achieve what their parents could not. Parents must not only validate the achievements of their children but also their failures; as they provide valuable life lessons.

The schools too must play their part. In Pakistan, even the elite schools are indifferent to the mental health care of their students. The best ones only promise ‘high scores’. Take an example of England, where the British government has recently included a mandatory subject of ‘mindfulness’ in schools; emphasising that mental health is as important as physical health.

Contrarily, Pakistani schools and academies present a gloomy picture. Obsessed with board positions, some even go to the extent where students are segregated into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ class sections as they prepare for their final exams. The message is clear. Only high scorers’ matter. Others do not. This irrational approach pushes many into depression and self-doubt.

It’s a Herculean task to deal with suicide crisis in Pakistani society where psychiatry has no scope, parenting is troubled, schooling is only a profitable business, men don’t cry, marriage is considered the ultimate antidote of depression, mental illness is a stigma and suicide is an offense.

Unless mental health is taken seriously, students and the public alike, whether high achievers or those perceiving themselves as ‘failure’ will continue taking their lives. The government must take up the mental health crisis rather acting like a pigeon who just shuts its eyes, thinking the cat does not exist. Wait and see is never a strategy.