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Friday, March 4, 2016

Doctors, NGOs team up to check campus suicide - TNN

TNN | Feb 28, 2016, 12.29 PM IST

Chennai: Doctors' bodies such as Indian Psychiatric Society and NGOs like Sneha will work with the support of WHO to frame guidelines and train students, parents and teachers to prevent suicides on campuses.

The 3-day conference organised by NGO Sneha in Chennai noted that the death of Rohit Vemula in Hyderabad University and 3 medical students in a Tamil Nadu college could have been prevented if these campuses had a 'protective net' of peers, seniors, teachers and health systems. India has the dubious distinction of being the world's suicide capital.

"Students choosing death above a prospective life shows a failure in the system. We think it's our duty (to correct this trend)," said Indian Psychiatric Society president Dr G Prasad Rao. The society is working with schools while lobbying with the Union human resource development ministry and University Grants Commission to make suicide prevention cells mandatory on college campuses. "We will hopefully get it done by the next academic year. Several doctors have volunteered to work with educational institutions," he said.

Doctors sought to dispel the belief that people who took their own lives would have ultimately done it even if stopped the first time. Geneva-based Dr Shekar Saxena, director, department of mental health and substance abuse, WHO, said on many occasions suicide can be an impulsive act, especially among the young, making it difficult to predict. "Across the globe experts are calling for reconsideration of suicide-prevention strategies. Growing evidence have shown suicide ideas don't last long. Most people who are prevented from an attempt change their mind in 24 hrs," he said.

This can happen by keeping students busy in the real-world through social network or denying access to things that can lead to suicide. For instance, access to alcohol and drugs to a depressed student can prove lethal. At least 35% of all those who committed suicide in India did it under the influence of alcohol, said Sneha founder Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar.

Support, they said, is crucial. "Our family ties are becoming weak, and the new ties which should have been strengthened haven't become strong. Support doesn't exist on many campuses," said London-based Dr Vikram Patel from London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In many countries including the UK, suicide rates are low because people on campus have taken the responsibility to work on them, he said.

Two years ago, Dr Vijayakumar and a former IIT director toured the IITs to find out reasons for campus suicides. "We made recommendations such as developing 'student mentors' who would listen to juniors, encourage and offer emotional support. 

This is working well in IIT-Kanpur. We wanted it implemented on all IIT campuses. The file is probably gathering dust in the ministry," she said.