Student suicides in premier educational institutions have been in the news recently. Data from NCRB’s ADSI reports indicates that the number of student suicides increased by 32% between 2017 and 2021. The trend reversed in 2017 after a decline.
In the past few weeks, cases of suicides by students pursuing higher education have been reported in mainstream media. Such incidents have been reported from medical colleges, premier institutes like IITs, as well as private colleges. Academic pressure, alleged harassment by faculty, staff, or other students, poor performance in examinations are some of the reasons why students deliberately end their lives. Not just among students, suicide is among the leading causes of death among youth in India and across the globe. Studies have also shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has had profound psychological and social impacts which are expected to have added to these numbers, especially among youth and women. In this context, we look at the trends in suicides among students in the country, including among students in premier institutes.
The National Crime Record Bureau’s (NCRB) Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report contains comprehensive data on suicides in the country based on the data collated by State/UT police departments. As per the ADSI report, both the number of suicides and the rate of suicides has been increasing in India since 2017 after a decline.
Student suicides increased by 32% between 2017 and 2021
Between 2017 & 2021, the number of suicides increased by over 26% while that among students increased by over 32%. The number of student suicides increased from 9,905 in 2017 to more than 13,000 in 2021. This translates to an average of 35 suicides every day in 2021 or at least 1-2 suicides every hour. Students accounted for 7.6% of the total suicides reported in the country in 2017, which rose to 8.2% in 2020 and dropped to 8% in 2021.
In the year 2020, the number of suicides among students witnessed a sudden increase of 21% contrary to the gradual rise in previous years, which may be due to the pandemic. It is also noteworthy that the share of male students who ended their lives increased from 52% to 56.5% in the five years under consideration.
Maharashtra, accounting for 14% of the suicides, reported the greatest number of incidents in each of the five years
Of the total 56,014 student suicides reported between 2017 and 2021, Maharashtra alone accounted for 14% of the deaths followed by Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu which accounted for about 9% each. Throughout the five years, Maharashtra reported the greatest number of student suicides in the country with an average of 1,571 deaths every year. In 2021, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Odisha, and Jharkhand together accounted for 52% of the student suicides in the country.
The top 15 states/UTs reporting the greatest number of student suicides have together accounted for about 88% of the total student suicides reported in the country in each of these five years. While most states like Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Gujarat, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh reported a drop in student suicides in 2018 and a continuous rise since then, West Bengal has reported a continuous drop in cases. The incidents in West Bengal have dropped by 65% from 779 suicides in 2017 to 272 in 2021. In Bihar and Rajasthan, the incidents of student suicides almost doubled in the 5 years. In Odisha, there was a sudden spike in student suicides in 2020. The number rose from 379 in 2019 to nearly four times- 1469 in 2020 before dropping by 43% in 2021.
103 students committed suicides in IITs, IIMs, NITs, AIIMS, and CUs since 2018
While the NCRB data gives information regarding students, it does not differentiate between students pursuing higher education vis-à-vis students pursuing school education. In the recently concluded budget session of the Parliament, questions were raised about the suicides among the students in premier institutes like IITs, IIMs, and NITs. According to a response, a total of 103 students who studied in IITs, IIMs, NITs, AIIMS, and Central Universities committed suicide from 2018 and until 03 April 2023. Of these 103 suicides, 35 were reported from IITs, 29 from Central Universities, 24 from NITs, 11 from AIIMS, and 4 from IIMs.
With just a little more than a quarter into 2023, 9 suicides have been reported from Central Universities, the highest since 2018. Academic stress, family reasons, personal reasons, mental health issues, etc. were cited as some of the reasons for such suicide cases, in the Upper House.
According to another response in the parliament from December 2021, the number of incidents of suicides by the students of IITs, IIMs, Indian Institute of Science (IISCs), Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore and Indian Institutes of Science Education & Research (IISERs), Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs), Central Universities and other Centrally funded technical institutions like NITIE Mumbai, SLIET Longowala was 122 between 2014 and 2021. About one-third of the students were from the OBC category and 20% from the SC category.
Those aged between 18 to 30 years are among the most vulnerable to Suicide
The NCRB report notes that the age groups of ‘18 to 30’ and ‘30 to 45’ years are the most vulnerable groups resorting to suicides. The number of deaths in the ’18-30’ age group increased from 45,217 to 56,543 (an increase of 25%) in the five years from 2017 to 2021.
The report also provides data on the cause of suicides among persons belonging to the age group of ‘18 to 30’ years. The data indicates that ‘failure of exam’ is the reason behind around 2% of the total suicides in the said age group between 2017 and 2019. In 2020, the share dropped to 1.6% and further to 1.3% in 2021.
Each year, ‘Family problems’ was the leading cause of suicides for one in three suicides in this age group. Illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, etc. were the cause of 12-13% of the suicides. Marriage and love affairs were reasons for another 7-8% of suicides. These four reasons together accounted for about 60 to 63% of the suicides among young adults. Other causes include drug abuse, poverty, bankruptcy, career-related problems, and unemployment.
The drastic increase in suicides among students is a cause for concern. Apart from academic pressure, students are also subject to a sudden change in environment after school while pursuing higher education. They are faced with financial constraints, social pressure, and culture shocks among other things. Comprehensive mitigation strategies are the need of the hour.