- Nearly 50 university students committed suicide amid Covid closure
- 31 DU students committed suicide from Jan 2005 to Mar2020
- 11 DU students took their own lives since Covid closure
- Suicidal tendencies increasing among students, youths
- Depression, lack of counselling behind this rising trend
- Low number of psychiatrists, psychologists a major issue
Hafizur Rahman – a student of Dhaka University's Information Science and Library Management Department – returned to the capital from his hometown Brahmanbaria on 15 May, a day after Eid-ul-Fitr.
On the fateful day, Hafiz phoned his family for the final time, telling them he had arrived at his residence safe and sound. There was nothing in his voice indicating that something was wrong. When his family tried to call him on the phone a few hours later, they found it switched off.
Unable to track down his whereabouts, the family immediately filed a general diary with Kasba Police station in Brahmanbaria. After days of searching, the young man's brother found his body in the morgue of Dhaka Medical College Hospital on 23 May.
Suffering from depression, Hafiz had killed himself after taking Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, better known as LSD. Like him, nearly 50 students from public and private universities have committed suicide since the closure of such institutions amid the Covid-19 pandemic, sources have said.
According to Dhaka University, at least 31 of its students committed suicide between January 2005 and March 2020. But since the university shut down in a bid to curb the Covid-19 pandemic, 11 students have taken their lives so far. Given such realities, Hafiz's suicide was not an isolated incident.
An investigation carried out by the Detective Branch of Dhaka Metropolitan Police and Hafiz's close associates provided some much-needed answers into the tragic incident, revealing that chronic depression had caused Hafiz to turn to LSD - an extremely dangerous hallucinogenic drug.
Mir Lokman, one of his closest associates, told The Business Standard, "Hafiz was suffering from depression, as he was very concerned about his family's financial situation. He kept his problems to himself and never discussed them with others, except only a few.
"His depression deepened after the university closed down amid the pandemic. Hafiz had lost his way, and there was no one who could help him."
Depression rising, but counselling still a far cry
Several psychologists and sociologists have said depression is rising among students and youths, but they lack access to proper counselling. This in turn is responsible for the increasing trend of suicides among them.
Commenting on the issue, Prof DrNehal Karim, former teacher at the Sociology Department of Dhaka University, said, "There is no standardised research capable of pinpointing the actual problems that led the youths to commit suicides. So it is difficult to name any specific reasons.
"But we can assume that depression and lack of proper counselling drove these students to engage in illicit activities and take their own lives."
He continued, "For most people in the country, income has dropped quite drastically during the Covid-19 pandemic. Many students are from lower income families and they have become depressed due to the overall circumstances.
"Even students who belong to wealthy families have become misguided in the absence of adequate counselling."
Noted psychologist Prof DrMehtabKhanam pointed out that the long closure of educational institutions and dormitories has isolated students from their peer groups and circles.
"To make matters worse, many families are becoming poorer after losing their income due to the pandemic. Such issues are directly impacting the lives of the students, causing many of them to become depressed," she told The Business Standard.
Adding that psychosocial treatment is a must to support students suffering from mental illnesses, Prof Khanam said, "But, unfortunately, Bangladesh does not have a sufficient number of psychiatrists and psychologists. The country has around 300 psychiatrists and fewer than 500 psychologists.
"Of them, many do not have the necessary knowledge and experience. The government must take an initiative for students to recover the learning losses and also provide treatment to students suffering from mental illnesses. Otherwise, the future generation could lose its potential."
She recommended that the government offer a series of sessions to train new psychologists, who will then provide their services across the country.
Suicidal tendencies rising among students
Dhaka University Proctor Prof AKM Golam Rabbani said suicidal tendencies, which have increased among the institution's students, is higher compared to pre-pandemic times. The university has taken an initiative to identify the reasons behind this trend.
A research article, titled "Psychological responses during the Covid-19 outbreak among university students in Bangladesh", published last year revealed that 76% of the students were suffering from depression, 71% from anxiety and 70% from stress.
The researchers conducted the internet-based survey during the month of April 2020, involving 3,122 Bangladeshi university students aged 18 to 29 years. PLOS ONE – a US-based research journal – published the article.
Another article, "Stressors and mental health in Bangladesh: Current situation and future hopes", said Bangladesh does not have enough psychiatrists to fulfill its needs. It was published by Cambridge University Press on 10 December last year.
Young medical graduates need incentives to take psychiatric residencies, and primary care providers need to be proficient in recognising mental symptoms and giving basic treatment, the article added.
According to the latest study conducted by Aachol Foundation, suicides claimed 14,436 lives between March last year and February 2021, compared to 8,462 Covid-19-related deaths during that time.
The number of suicides is about 45% higher than in the previous 12-month period, the study revealed, adding that the coronavirus pandemic has reportedly seen suicidal tendencies rise among students at an alarming rate. Frustration and depression have grown, spurring many to commit suicide.
Care, mental treatment and support are hard to access in Bangladesh, especially for young people and is the cause behind rising depression. Of the suicide victims, 49% were between the ages of 20 and 35, with 57% of them women, it said.
Data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics show that an estimated 10,000 people commit suicide in Bangladesh on average every year.
No government initiative as yet
Education Minister DipuMonihas told the media on multiple occasions that she is planning to appoint at least one psychologist in each district to prioritise the solution of mental health issues related to students. She has also said that the education ministry will train over 1 lakh teachers through using digital platforms.
But the education ministry has yet to take any steps in this regard, while psychological issues among the students are increasing day by day.