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Covid and the rise in suicidal behaviour in youths

  • Published at 05:59 pm October 9th, 2021
Representational image Bigstock

As many as 151 students in Bangladesh committed suicide between March 2020 and June 2021, says a recent study

Levels of stress, depression and anxiety have increased among youths amid the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to a rise in suicide attempts and suicides, according to a recent study.

The survey, conducted in June by the youth organization Aachol Foundation, has found that suicides increased by 44% in Bangladesh in the first year of the pandemic compared to 2019. Of those who took their own lives last year, 49% were people aged 20-35.

A total of 2,026 people had participated in the survey.

Aachol Foundation found that 61.2% of the respondents — 84.9% of whom belong to the 18-25 age group — were suffering from depression amid the pandemic. Moreover, 44.3% of the total respondents said they had no one to talk to about their mental issues.

In addition, 50.1% of the participants said they had at some point during the pandemic thought about committing suicide. Of them, 8.3% had taken preparations to commit suicide but did not follow through, while 3.7% attempted to commit suicide but failed.

Students’ ordeal

Sajib Ahmed, a final-year student at a public university, is among the 3.7%.

Various factors, including his family’s insolvency, loss of his part-time job and the death of his sister’s new-born child amid the pandemic, had led to Sajib becoming suicidal.

Also Read -  Pandemic takes heavy toll on mental health of uni students

“I had tried to commit suicide thrice, but luckily I survived,” Sajib said.

“I have not sat around like this in four years. I used to earn money by doing a part-time job and providing tuition [before the pandemic]. I just could not bear the psychological pain,” he added.

Four university students took their lives in September alone.

Aachol Foundation, in another survey, found that 151 students committed suicide in Bangladesh between March 17, 2020 and June 4, 2021. Of them, 73 were school students, 42 university and medical college students, 27 college students and 29 madrasa students.

The total number was 11 in 2018 and 19 in 2017.

More suicides than Covid-19 deaths

Earlier this year, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) said incidents of suicide had outnumbered deaths from Covid-19. 

Altogether 8,462 people died of Covid-19 in the 365 days after the first coronavirus cases were detected in the country on March 8, 2020. In contrast, Aachol Foundation found that 14,436 people committed suicide during the same period.

It was found that 35% of them committed suicide due to family problems, 24% due to stress, 32% due to unknown reasons, 4% due to financial issues, 1% due to issues related to studies and others due to various other reasons.

The number of patients — especially youths — with mental fatigue and anxiety has increased amid the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Prof Md Tazul Islam of the National Institute of Mental Health and Hospital.

Noting that suicide was on the rise, he said the number of people suffering from depression had increased significantly amid the pandemic.

Taboos, counselling

World Mental Health Day 2021 will be observed around the globe, including in Bangladesh, on Sunday, with the slogan “Mental health care for all: let's make it a reality”. 

Also Read - World Mental Health Day Sunday

The government has been operating a healthcare helpline service that has also provided counselling since last year, but it is apparently hardly dialled on mental health-related issues. 

“In most cases people are unaware of their own mental issues and their acquaintances do not consider them to be a real illness, which discourages them from seeking counselling, said Prof Tazul Islam.

On May 14 last year, senior journalist Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan’s 23-year-old daughter committed suicide. Due to the traumatic experience, he could not sleep, had high blood pressure and chest pains, and was mentally unstable.

In his state of depression, he even tried to commit suicide twice. Later, he underwent grief counselling for four months.

“I think access to counselling should be increased. We have to create that feeling and awareness in people that it is just as serious as physical illness. I went to the doctor of my own accord and I still do. Through counselling I have been able to cope with the situation,” said Bhuiyan.

Meanwhile, Prof Mahfuza Khanam of the Department of Psychology at Dhaka University, said there was no standardized study that could identify the real reasons behind young people's suicidal tendencies.

She attributed anxiety to the rise in suicides among youths.

“Financial crisis, family issues, death of a family member due to Covid-19, unemployment, break in studies, inability to look for jobs due to being stuck in the final year of university — all these factors create uncertainties and stress out youths,” she explained.

“But there is a ray of hope now. Universities and other educational institutions have reopened. We hope the frustration will gradually subside,” Prof Mahfuza Khanam said.

She assured that the DU administration would focus more attention on students’ mental health from now on.

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