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Just exam stress doesn?t kill

It is the exam season and the pressure to do well has driven thousands of students into a routine of ceaseless preparation.

india Updated: Mar 11, 2006 03:25 IST
Anuradha Mukherjee
Anuradha Mukherjee

It is the exam season and the pressure to do well has driven thousands of students into a routine of ceaseless preparation. Sometimes, the pressure becomes too much and a 17-year-old decides to call it quits. Not for nothing have the biggest school exams been given the moniker ‘killer boards’.

But experts working in the field of crisis intervention for students feel there may be more to student suicides than merely exams. A study conducted by Snehi, an NGO that runs the an exclusive exam- and result-related helpline for young people, has found that only 1 per cent of the total calls received by it over nine years were suicidal in nature.

“We received 52,976 calls from students from all over the country,” says Abdul Mabood, director, Snehi. “Only 530 were suicidal in nature. This indicates that exams are perhaps only one of the factors driving a child to suicide, since a vast majority manages to cope.”

Other experts agree. While over 11 lakh students appear for the boards every year, only a very small number gets perturbed enough to have suicidal thoughts.

Mabood says in 316 (77.45 per cent) of the suicidal cases, the callers had a hostile or dysfunctional family environment and a lack of bonding in close relationships resulting in a sense of worthlessness.

“There is a need to study the child’s environment,” says Dr Deepak Gupta, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Ganga Ram Hospital (he is also associated with Snehi). “In most such cases, the child already has poor problem-solving skills and the exams are merely a trigger, the last straw. Suicide is the end but what leads to it is a process of pervasive maladjustment due to familial, school, peer and self-pressure.”

He says a dysfunctional or hostile family environment can create severe emotional imbalances in a child, hampering his ability to think of solutions and cope with stress. “Some are also biologically pre-disposed to commit suicide if there’s a family history of such acts,” he says.

Among high achievers, it is often the student’s own self-perception that is the culprit — rather than the family environment or extraneous pressure.

“Often high achievers tend to be perfectionists and nothing less than the best will do for them,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, associate professor (psychiatry), AIIMS. “They also tend to be very anxious. Here parents can act as a very effective buffer as they’re the closest to a child. But in a number of cases, peers and teachers can also be effective counsellors and communicators.”

First Published: Mar 11, 2006 03:25 IST