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Rising suicides among students a telltale sign of poor mental health care in Bangladesh

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Oct 10, 2022 - 11:39 AM

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AA) – Dejected 21-year-old Nayem Islam (not real name) attempted to take his own life but luckily survived, backpedaling from suicidal tendencies with the mental support and care he received from his university fellows.

A study published on eve of World Mental Health Day marked on Oct. 10 revealed that at least 404 students committed suicide in the past nine months of this year in Bangladesh.

“I had engaged in a love affair and broke up at the end of 2020. But I could not accept it. I felt lost and depressed, which affected my study and health,” Islam, a 2nd-year student at the Department of Medicine, University of Dhaka, told Anadolu Agency.

“I have not yet come out of the situation completely. I am still under close monitoring of mental health specialists and taking counseling,” he added.

However, his journey to find mental care was not so easy, he noted.

“I had to wait for months to determine where to go and who to consult to improve my situation. Then a student organization referred me to a psychiatrist,” he added.

He lamented the poor mental health care system with limited outreach in the country.

Manzuara Begum, hailing from the northern Rangpur district, has been struggling with her 11-year-old boy with mental issues, and a behavioral disorder.

“Until one of my relatives referred me to a child psychiatrist in our district, I was unaware that such a disorder could be treated. However, during treatment, we have been stigmatized in society, with some people calling my son a lunatic,” she told Anadolu Agency with tears rolling down her cheeks.

Both cases painted a grim picture of the country’s mental health care situation.

According to a 2018 survey on mental health jointly conducted by the government and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the overall prevalence of mental disorders among the population 18 years and above was 18.7%.

Suicidal tendencies

Aachol Foundation, a youth-run organization based at Dhaka University, has been working to raise mental health awareness among youths. It has become a support center for students who need mental counseling.

It published a study on Saturday that revealed at least 404 students committed suicide in the past nine months of this year. The tendency of suicide is most noticeable among youths 13 to 20-year-olds.

The foundation interviewed 1,640 students from 38 public universities, 47 private universities, madrasas (Islamic schools), and colleges and published the findings this week.

Two third of those surveyed said they have been facing mental health issues. The health of about 81% of students has been found significantly impacted due to mental issues developed during their academic life.

Those who committed suicide included 219 school students, 57 university students, 84 college students, and 44 madrasa students. Out of 404 students who committed suicide, 242 were female students.

Tansen Rose, founder, and president of Aachol Foundation, has firsthand experience of supporting students in need of mental care as he once passed through such hurdles at Dhaka University.

“Personality changes are thought to be an early stage of psychological problems. So, it is necessary to be aware of students who suddenly become introverts,” said Rose.

The study found that excessive expectations from parents have a negative impact on the educational life of students. Meanwhile, the pressure to complete the curriculum in less time due to campus closure during the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted the students’ mental health.

“If a student becomes upset or depressed, s/he needs to share the feeling with someone. But unfortunately, it is found that 48.84% of students surveyed do not have anyone to share their thoughts with. Not being able to share problems can lead to depression or even suicide,” he added.

The mental strength to solve any problem or to control emotion is found lacking among students, he said, suggesting that efforts should be made to support the vulnerable youths.

Mental health

Dr. Helal Uddin Ahmed, associate professor of child adolescent and family psychiatry at NIMH, told Anadolu Agency that there are multifactorial issues behind the growing number of suicide cases among youths.

“A similar failure does not have a similar mental effect on different students so we should learn the certain cause and extend support accordingly,” he suggested, saying that people with some mental illnesses are prone to committing suicide.

“We have to take care of our mental health as we take care of our physical health,” Ahmed said.

People with suicidal tendencies usually show signs before they attempt suicide. But people normally ignore these signs, and mock the victims, forcing them to commit suicide.

These vulnerable people also face several obstacles while accessing mental health support.

“We have only 350 psychiatrists and some 500 psychologists or counselors for a 165 million population,” he added.

The process of becoming a specialist in mental health care takes 12 years of medical education, said Ahmed.

“During the academic period between 2012 and 2022, there was almost nothing in the medical curricula on mental health. However, now from the next 2023 academic year, medical students will get primary learning on the subject,” he added.

He also suggested providing primary training to school teachers so that they can extend immediate support and take care of students’ mental health.

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