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Youthquake: Kill me not

February 07, 2010

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“Let him know that you know best
Cause after all you do know best
Try to slip past his defense
Without granting innocence
Lay down a list of what is wrong
The things youve told him all along
And pray to God he hears you”

— How to save a life by The Fray

There is a scene in the Bollywood flick 3 Idiots which shows a bright, young student hanging from the ceiling. The reason for the character's suicide was that the administration wasn't willing to grant him an extension in submitting his final project, which he couldn't fully concentrate on owing to the student's father's ill health. Without the final project, the student would not be able to graduate and would have to leave the university. Hailing from a low-income family who had pitted their dreams and hopes in their son's education, the pressure of disappointing them, causing them pain and of wasting all of the years he invested in his education proved to be more than he could handle. Post-funeral, Aamir Khan's character reveals a chilling statistic every two-and-a-half hours, a student in India commits suicide.

It doesn't end here. According to statistics, approximately two million youth in the US attempt suicide every year. The situation is worse in Japan which has one of the highest rates of suicide in an industrialised nation. The suicide rate in Japan has been largely perpetuated by worsening economic conditions leading to unemployment and social pressures. The rate for suicide is so high that rail companies in Japan now charge families—whose member has committed suicide by jumping in front of a train—a fee that varies according to the severity of disrupted traffic. In Japan, a popular method nowadays is to use household products to create a poisonous gas that would do the deed. This was largely perpetuated by the internet websites springing up with instructions on how to create those gases. According to statistics, 876 suicides from January to September in 2008 resulted from the above-mentioned method.

The internet is also largely responsible for the popularity of suicide pacts (shinjû)—a concept explained and made popular by the Japanese film, Suicide club. Suicide in Japan is not criminalised and the culture considers it to be the 'moral' thing to do in certain situations. With such alarming statistics, however, the government of Japan has taken note and is taking steps in investigating the root causes, prevent, counter suicide and change public attitude towards it.

In the past two years, there have been reported cases of suicide among the youth of Pakistan as well. More publicised cases include that of a fourth-year student, Hashir Munnawar, at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (Lums), who commited suicide by hanging himself in his hostel room last year. Munawwar's Grade Point Average (GPA) had fallen in the last quarter of his term due to which he was put on probation by the administration. Where some are critical in the manner in which the Lums administration handled the event and of their policies regarding the education of their students, there are others who are of the opinion that “rules are rules”, that the person-in-question knew fully well the situation he was getting into and that the university is not (indirectly) responsible for his death. Whatever the stance, and whether Munnawar had other reasons for taking the step that he did, the situation was eerily similar to the one mentioned above in the film 3 Idiots. The scene is perhaps repeated numerous times by different people in different places.

A much-loved, activist/artist Asim Butt recently took his own life by hanging. The motives behind it aren't exactly clear as yet but he leaves behind with him a strong body of work and a whole congregation of friends and well-wishers. His death sent shockwaves throughout the industry and, as publicised as his death may have been, his case isn't an isolated one. Studies have shown that young people think or consider suicide more frequently than is generally perceived.

In most cases, suicide is a process, not an event. Statistically, eight out of 10 suicide victims give out indications of their intent in their behaviour long before they actually carry out the deed. A myth surrounding suicide is that the victim wants to die. The truth is that a suicidal youth is in a lot of pain and they want that pain to end, and not necessarily by dying. Perpetuated by an inability to cope with the pain (in which their capacity to cope has been stretched to the limit), along with symptoms of a mental illness (depression being one of them)—to the suicidal youth the only release from the pain they can be taking their own life.

The reason why very few suicidal youth are even willing to talk about their turmoil or their intent is because they're afraid of being judged or discriminated. Having a sincere conversation with a potential victim without passing judgement or displaying fear can bring respite to that person. Providing support, a sincerity to help and a willingness to listen to the suicidal youth can greatly reduce chances of an attempt, by a person who may otherwise be feeling very isolated in their pain.