Understanding the youth suicide crisis in India on a

systemic scale

Independent collaboration

4 MONTHS

Co-workers

Tushara R., Anshul Agarwal, Maya Narayan, Bhairavi Prakash 

Brief

To understand the suicide crisis in India among youth on a systemic scale and identify gaps and levers

Methodology

// Secondary research: A thorough study from various resources which include, academic papers, reports, news articles, websites, blogs, and documentaries was undertaken.

// Primary research A survey of students across HEIs, with 436 respondents, and 10 in-depth interviews with key stakeholders including educationalists, psychiatrists, members of the mental health policy committee, academic researchers, sociologists, and members of the donor community, were conducted.

Key findings

  • Complex bio-psycho-social factors can contribute to emotional distress, which can lead to death by suicide. 

  • Young people are open about their struggles with mental health, however, usage of services is low.

  • Deaths by suicide are found across the spectrum of HEIs in India, not just engineering and medical institutions.

  • Misconceptions about mental well-being prevent young people from seeking help, and primary stakeholders from providing help.

Key insights

  • There is no single cause of death by suicide, different factors have an impact on an individual’s mental well-being. We identified four major systems that interact to have an impact on one’s mental well-being. Interconnections that exist between these systems, further contribute to the challenges faced by youth, affecting their mental health. 

  • An overwhelming focus lies with short-term solutions that are easier to formulate, less expensive and remedial in nature. This consequently, acts as a barrier to implement restorative solutions that address the root causes and could have a long-term impact on reducing emotional distress.

Limitations

The research could not be validated after synthesis from primary stakeholders (students) as being a sensitive issue, it can potentially trigger anyone.

Gaps and levers

As stated at the outset of this study, youth suicide in India needs to be viewed using a multi-sectoral lens, as there could be multiple “political (policy perspective), social (stigma and discrimination on basis of caste, gender, etc.), cultural (beliefs and help-seeking behaviours), and economic (both direct and indirect costs of treatment) factors”, possibly acting as tipping points that contribute to suicidal ideation amongst young people (Kaur and Pathak, 2015). We have identified 22 levers for systemic change based on our research findings and gaps. Realising that these levers are varied in terms of implementation efforts, as well as the extent of impact on the system, we have classified them based on Donella Meadows’ Leverage Points to Intervene in a System (Meadows, 1997).

 © Neeraja Kulkarni

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