Engulfed with despair and anxiety, before her exams, suicidal thoughts were hovering over Priya’s mind. At times these thoughts would comprise of a detailed plan of how she could execute it, while at other times she just had transitory thoughts. Pragmatic, Priya did not want to keep her suicidal thoughts a secret and rather chose to ask for help. She contacted the crisis support helpline of her University, who then referred her to a therapist at the Student Well being and Counseling Services.
At the first session, Priya was told do a simple exercise; she had to write down on a page all the things that made her heart heavy and then shred that very page into as many pieces as she could. Once she did that, she was told to list all those things that made her grateful. Her therapist then told her to appreciate what she saw and to be thankful for what she had.
The sessions with her therapist gave Priya the opportunity to talk in confidence about problems that concerned her. Soon, she learned to cope with the difficulties she went through.
Unlike, Priya, my classmate Elan (pseudonym) from high school, did not have the opportunity to consult anyone at school. While Priya only had suicidal thoughts; Elan executed them. His suicide note conveyed that having failed his exam, he felt as though death was an easier option. Looking back, I wonder if Elan could have been rescued from the dungeon of darkness if our school provided a wellbeing service too.
At times we might feel reluctant to ask for help from our family; finding that support at our school, college, university or workplace, can lead us to a better sense of positive well being.
As of yet, the High Court of Bangladesh has issued an order to enact a law, prohibiting the use of schoolbags that are more than 10 per cent of a child’s weight. This was a proactive step taken to aid the physical health of students. Can we not ask for a provision in Bangladesh which makes it mandatory for educational institutions to safeguard the mental health of their students as well?
Every educational institution should make efforts to find out the mental health status of their students. They should bring the vulnerable to light and understand what kind of support they are looking for. If there is support available in any form, the institution should find out what is stopping them from accessing help or what the barriers are. This could be done through proper case studies, with the use of detailed questionnaires, interviews, focused group discussions, Skype or live sessions. It is pertinent for every institution and even offices to recruit a therapist with whom one can emotionally connect and reach out for help. Having a well-being centre and a crisis helpline could also be a way forward. Talking about mental health should not be a taboo and we need to speak upto give people an idea about the enormity of it. As little Dolly left the world a powerful message, before committing suicide - ”Speak even if your voice shakes.”
Tahsin Noor Salim is a Legal Researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs, (BILIA)