• Thursday, Oct 29, 2020
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OP-ED: A silent killer

  • Published at 07:40 pm September 13th, 2020
mental health-psych
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Mandatory counselling in academic institutions could prevent needless deaths by suicide

Those who read newspapers regularly come across reports of the death of housewives or young people by suicide; almost all these have a similar reporting pattern, with the conclusion usually alluding to a statement by the law enforcers believing that the life or lives were taken due to family feuds or prolonged bouts of depression over romantic failure or other personal issues. 

Hardly do we see any in-depth analyses as to the causes which led a person(s) bereft of hope to take an extreme step. After a few days of regret for the loss of lives, these tragedies are forgotten. Worse still, the demons that torment the human mind to toy with the idea of self-immolation remain untouched.

As per a recent Dhaka Tribune report, more than 10,000 people take their lives in the country every year. This is indeed very high, and without an effort to understand myriad socio-economic complexities, tackling this will prove impossible. 

Psychological counselling is di rigueur

The first step to helping people address their problems is to make psychological counselling mandatory at schools, colleges, universities, and offices. 

Not too long ago, a small child took her life because, reportedly, she was reprimanded by her teachers for her faltering academic performance. 

Every year, we come across quite a few cases where teenagers in fear of facing public ignominy for academic disappointments choose death because they have been made to feel by their guardians and teachers that their results are the most important thing in life -- unless they are top notch, their lives are meaningless. 

At school and college, students face bullying and mistreatment from fellow students, and often tolerate unkind remarks from teachers, which deeply scar their minds. Countless people enter professional lives with a confident demeanour which hides years of inner torment. Unaware of the consequences of suppressed fear or anger, these adults perpetuate, often subconsciously, the same abominable behaviour they faced as teenagers or children. Hence, we see “gaslighting” at work places.

When a student of BUET was beaten to death as part of institutional ragging, the presence of bullying in its most malevolent form came out in the open. At that time, countless students admitted to the existence of such a culture where seniors exercise the perverted right to mistreat, ridicule, demean, and humiliate juniors. 

Shockingly, there have been attempts to brush aside such cultures on the pretext that this is just a part of growing up. Unfortunately, such practices, employed during colonial times with the sole purpose of shattering the assertive tendencies of independent-minded students, can no longer be defended.

Regrettably, in our attempt to constantly project a conservative society, all social problems are summarily categorized in black and white, with very little space left for the complexities of the mind falling within the grey areas. Consequently, youngsters cannot go to family members to openly talk about why their grades are not improving or to express freely their desire to pursue sports-based education rather than traditional academic excellence-based formats.

Society should stop making decisions for children

To find the root of the concept which believes that without academic excellence life is useless, we need to look at the seemingly common social trait where adults ask youngsters what they aspire to become when they grow up, callously restricting the choices to engineer, doctor, government servant, or architect.

When a child/teen is given limited choices and feels pressurized to pick from the professions stated, they cannot openly state their desire to be an actor, writer, sportsperson, or musician for fear of not living up to expectations. 

To relate a personal experience, when I was in class seven in the early 80s, the class teacher asked me what I wanted to be, and when I responded, “captain of the Bangladesh national football team,” the whole class, including the teacher, broke into laughter. 

But someone has to be the captain of the national team, right? And whoever that person is always commands respect and social recognition. Yet, sports is hardly encouraged by parents to children who display talent at an early age.

I have not come across a single parent in Dhaka who holds a desire to send their son or daughter to BKSP for a sports-based education. 

Almost 95% of those who studied and study at BKSP are from families outside the capital, which shows that in urban areas there is a serious lack of understanding about honing latent sporting skills in children. 

This is where counselling comes in because, faced with pressure from parents for better academic results, a child is compelled to silently bid farewell to other aspirations. 

Since open and rational discussion within family spheres is still a rarity, counselling in academic institutions can go a long way in helping young people deal with a variety of inner conflicts.

This will also need to include the parents because the highly damaging belief that a child has to do as asked of them by the parent will only dissipate through proper counselling sessions by experts.

There is much more to life than getting an A+

Children become the victims of competition among parents who resort to one-upmanship with the results of their wards. This flaunting tendency does irreparable harm to young minds, since those who fail to get top grades are made to feel inferior.

While in the larger scheme of things, school or college academic records appear insignificant, the pressure to excel at these levels can cause grave psychological damage, often resulting in suicide.

To end, let me give the names of Shakib Khan, Misha Sowdagor, Mostafa Sarwar Farooki, Afran Nisho, and Mamunul Islam, who are economically established, well known stars in their chosen fields of celluloid, film-making, acting, and sport respectively. How much did their academic results play a role in the success of their professional lives? 

From bullying to family coercion to drug addiction and teen romance related disappointments -- academic institution-based support can help a lot in preventing heart-wrenching deaths. 

Also, once inner turmoil is addressed with proper therapy, adults will enter the real world not as dysfunctional people cautiously maintaining a socially acceptable façade. 

The government should make it mandatory for all public schools and colleges to immediately open help centres run by specialists. 

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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