Panaji: On a hot and sultry day, the heat was perhaps the last thing on 18-year-old Vishnu Natarajan's mind when he jumped to his death from a building's third storey in Ponda town, 35 km from this Goa capital.
Police, for now, claim that Natarajan, a Class 9 science student at a Ponda Education Society-run higher secondary school, was unable to bear the pressure after his report card showed he had failed in some subjects - which could have led to the fatal leap.
But for social scientists like Shaila De Souza, who runs the Sanghmitra project, a state-wide coalition for reproductive and social health of adolescents, Natarajan's death is symptomatic of the pressure that adolescents between the ages of 10 and 19 in Goa undergo.
"Some of the issues/insecurities include increasing incidence of violence and crime, rising cost of living coupled with bleak prospects for career opportunities, anaemia which may have resulted from poor eating habits or maybe even a lack of access to good food, other health problems, drugs, peer pressure which is getting to be more and more material related, academic pressures...there is a long list of issues and insecurities that the teens of today face," De Souza told IANS.
Goa's outward façade is that of a fun paradise where all the roads lead to when it comes to partying, nightlife and general merriment. But unknown to many, depression, emotional turmoil, alcoholism and other forms of addiction, as also mental illness, are slowly notching up a big spree of suicides over the last few years in what is arguably India's party capital.
Goa government figures on suicides accessed by IANS for 2011-13 show that of the 887 suicides, nearly a third - 338 - were due to depression, mental illnesses and frustration. In 2012, while India's national average was 11.7 percent suicides for every 100,000 of population, Goa's average was 18.4 percent.
The average rate of suicides in Goa is about 5.61 every week - many of them students like 14-year-old Radha (name changed) who committed suicide last month because her mother scolded her for spending too much time on her tablet PC.
The involvement of a large number of students in suicides also spurred the Goa government's education department to start counselling sessions in all the state's schools two years ago. Analyses of the counselling sessions with over 20,000 students revealed that the inability to tackle emotional issues, love affairs and substance abuse, social behaviour linked trauma, were some of the key areas of concern.
During the counselling sessions, students who confessed to have toyed with the idea of suicide were offered more focussed attention. "The diverse socio-economic and cultural levels of the students and the increased competition at school for achieving higher academic grades play havoc with the young minds, more so with the vulnerable sections of society, thereby falling prey to addictions of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and at times gambling," Education Director Anil Powar told IANS.
While she believed that counselling of students is of immense help, Gayathri Rao Konkar, a consultant at the Nirmala Institute of Education, warned against the perils of stereotyping problems and underlined the need to understand the uniqueness of each and every student and his or her needs. "As a counsellor, I am painfully aware of how often adolescents are stereotyped and how little attention is paid to their unique individual needs," Konkar told IANS.
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