If your child is considering suicide, it is most likely your fault

A grade 12 student in a Bangalore school killed himself ten days ago. The conversation around the distressing news is that the exams, that just concluded last week, were hard and even the brightest kids saw the question papers and began to cry. There other unsubstantiated theories, too. No one knows for sure, of course, because the child didn’t leave a suicide note. He texted three of his best friends telling them he loved them and this was goodbye. His entire class is devastated, his close friends more so. I don’t even know how to describe the condition his parents are in. Losing a child to suicide is possibly the most difficult thing that a human being might face in their lifetime. It’s a promise of a full life extinguished in a moment of extreme distress.


But here I am going to go out on a limb and say that outside of a mental illness -- depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and others -- a suicide of an otherwise “happy, carefree, brilliant kid,” is largely a parenting failure. I know this might be harsh for parents across the board, especially parents who have lost their children to suicide. But I am done being sympathetic to parents because I see all around me how they neglect their children in many, many ways. Before I launch into why I think this, let me give you a few statistics.


According to data released in 2015 by NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau), every one hour, a student commits suicide in India. Add to it a Lancet study that was released in 2012 (last available) India has one among the highest rates of suicide among students between the ages of 15 and 24. In 2015, the number of student suicides stood at 8,934. Between 2010 and 2015, 39,775 students killed themselves. The number of attempted suicides, many unreported, is likely to be much higher. We all agree that people who attempt suicide need support of families and teachers as well as medical help by way of therapy and counselling. But what do you do when India is short of over 60,000 psychiatrists? What do you do when there are only three psychiatrists available for every one million people?


The only alternative I see to this immensely terrifying set of numbers is to urgently and rigorously change the way we approach raising kids as well as the inhuman environment in which we educate them. You might, of course, say that not everyone who faces pressure at school commits suicide. That some children might achieve high marks and come out with flying colours. But that would be a false argument, one that says all kids are alike and deal with pressures just as similarly. The same Lancet study goes on to reveal data about how students from backgrounds that earn Rs 100000 per annum and below are at higher risk of suicide than those who come from better income households. Another set of factors that influenced suicide was whether the family was a happy one or not. As would be obvious, the data clearly connects unhappy families and children’s suicides.


Taking all of these factors into consideration gives you a certain picture, for sure. What it doesn’t give you is the details that this picture is made up of. There is very little one can do about income levels in terms of change and training as such but there is a whole lot that can done in terms of families that are quarrelling and unhappy. In the context of these things that I have just detailed, I am going reiterate that suicide among children is a parenting failure. On many counts. 1. The unnecessary expectation you set for a child even if they are not direct. The insidious rewarding and complimenting of cousins and other relatives who have done well in studies. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. It is when that wistful note that enters your voice as you speak about it that does the trick: kids don’t miss out on it at all. They know you are subtly trying to tell them you wish your kids were like them. The talking up of economically successful people who have the pedigree of ivy league schools behind them. The fear that you put into them early that if they don’t study they’ll have to become barbers, and drivers and maids, as if those were bad things. (Your life wouldn’t run without these service providers, let me tell you.)

2. The complete and utter lack of space for making mistakes. As a country, we are unforgivingly harsh on ourselves and, therefore, on others about mistakes. Not only does this affect the way we approach things but this also affects the way we perceive those in authority. Kids have lowered trust in people who don’t forgive mistakes -- their own or others’. This makes them afraid to come forward and ask you or tell you when something seems amiss. It makes them hesitate to come to you and seek help. Because you are expecting perfection of them.

3. The refusal to talk about ill mental health. And the refusal to see children for who they are. Ask a parent what their child like and more often than not, you’ll hear words that are generic -- happy, clever, easy going etc. Most parents have no clue about the emotional lives of their kids unless it hits them like a ton of bricks. And then, sometimes, it’s too late.


So what’s the way out of this… epidemic of student suicides? I don’t know. All I know is if you stop pressurising your kids to succeed at any cost, then you must also consider stopping the indirect ways of messaging that you give to them that says you won’t accept anything but academic “excellence” from them. Parents, more than anyone else, know how to manipulate their children. Be aware of the power you have over their fragile selves and do the thing that is right by them. Not what will give you happiness when they graduate school. Their success is not your success. Find your own thing to feel proud and selfish about. Your own thing that is not a living, thriving human being.


Until next week