10 days ago

Rethinking mental health events and their effectiveness

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Mental Health Awareness Month is being celebrated in the United States throughout May, aiming to strengthen mental health awareness among people. Based on this, various organisations working on mental health are conducting various activities in Bangladesh too.

Also, World Health Organisation (WHO), government and private initiatives celebrate World Mental Health Day on October 10 every year. Besides, a National Mental Health Act of 2018 and a 2030-focused mental health strategic plan are in place. Mapping by the National Institute of Mental Health in 2020 identified 226 governmental and private organisations focusing on mental health nationwide.

As we can see, there have been efforts to increase mental health awareness across all age groups and everywhere, but can we say that this awareness message has been spread across the nation? How effective have these efforts been at this point?

In the famous Indian film 3 Idiots, a student is shown admitting to the academic intrigue at the institution. He could not control his emotions as his dreams were wrecked before his eyes. Undervaluation of talent, family pressure, and incorrect academic behaviour all put pressure on him at the same time. So he decided to end his life to escape the strain of the outside world.

The majority of the audience could relate to this, if not the entire film, but most people did not follow in his footsteps. They discovered light even in the dark. However, not everyone finds that light in this battle of life. Suicide is the only way out for some people. So when we go through research papers, we see suicide being the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 29. Suicide rates due to mental health problems are increasing alarmingly in Bangladesh.

According to the WHO, more than 11,000 individuals commit suicide in this country each year. In most countries, the male suicide rate is higher, but the picture is the opposite in Bangladesh. It has come out in a study of the social and voluntary organisation Aachol Foundation. This study estimates that 86 university students were among the 532 school-college and university-level students who died by suicide in 2022. This amount also differs by gender.

According to the study, 63.9 per cent of school-college students who committed suicide are girls, while the remaining 36.1 per cent are boys. Aachol Foundation's study also revealed that 101 university students committed suicide in 2021. This number was 42 in 2020 and 11 in 2018. At least one thing is clear, the tendency of suicide rates has grown after COVID-19.

Psychiatrists believe that one of the reasons why suicide rates are rising is the stress of higher studies. We don't have to search far for an example. Tanveer Fuad Rumi, a fourth-year Mechanical Engineering student at Rajshahi University of Engineering and Technology (RUET), killed himself on Wednesday, May 17. Rumi's classmates and well-wishers were outraged when the news emerged on social media. Some blame his suicide on the educational system.

Facebook users began to offer messages of condolence for Rumi. But does the pressure of studying alone make a person averse to living?

In general, people commit suicide for various reasons beyond those mentioned in the research, including depression, career-related mental and social pressure on fresh graduates, future uncertainty, and financial distress. Because of this, some of them look for solutions to death.

Many people opt to commit suicide for a variety of reasons, including relationship issues, familial issues, the need for emotional release, and substance addiction—however, the root reasons for suicide run far deeper than they would first appear.

Tawhida Shiropa, the CEO of the Mental Health Service Center Moner Bondhu, has this viewpoint, "Covid has disrupted our normal life for the past two years. After the epidemic, there have been other crises. They are unable to handle unforeseen developments in their life because they lack the educational chances necessary to adjust to new circumstances. Frustration, social anxiety, despair, lack of attention, and sleeping disorders are the concerns that young people have raised most frequently in the past two years, leading to more help seekers."

"Now more than ever, young people have a tendency to give up easily. The addiction to screens is also on the rise," she further remarked.

During the Covid period, people have, quite rightfully, been able to spend more time with their families. Similarly, the sense of isolation created in people at this time is also right to mention. People who are suicidal usually do not share their problems openly with their family, relatives, friends, and those around them. Sometimes their ties with these people are not as strong. Many others feel burdened. So both cases can create a suicidal scenario for someone.

And thus, they feel that they have no option but to commit suicide. However, sociologists and psychologists have explained the causes of suicidal tendencies differently.

Sociologists point out that social factors are responsible for depression and mental illness. On the other hand, psychologists cite depression and mental illness as reasons for suicide.

Suicide figures in Bangladesh in recent years show that we must take immediate action. To lower the incidence of suicide, more coordinated initiatives and activities by government and non-governmental organisations across the country and policymaking are required.

As a result, it is important to consider the recruitment of qualified counsellors at educational institutions to raise mental health awareness among students at all levels, from primary to tertiary.

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