The pandemic has caused a dramatic rise in mental problems in people, irrespective of age and sex. An increase in suicides and ideations of self-harm among students of Dhaka University (DU), however, is a matter of concern, say experts.
According to DU statistics, as many as 39 students reportedly committed suicide between January 2005 and December 28 last year. In fact, in 2020, Covid triggered a rise in suicide ideation, with 10 students allegedly ending their own lives -- the latest was the death of Touhidul Islam Siam, a third-year student of zoology.
Touhidul allegedly took the extreme step at his Mohammadpur residence in Dhaka on December 28. His classmates claimed he was not only worried about his studies but also upset over his failed love life. DU proctor Prof AKM Golam Rabbani said he was shocked when he came to know that Touhidul hanged himself from a ceiling fan at his home.
On December 25, Rumana Yasmin, a student of the nutrition science department, also hanged herself in her room at the Azimpur Staff Quarters in Dhaka. She had passed BCS exams, and was at the Staff Quarters for training as an assistant director of Ansar Bahini. She took the extreme step as she was said to be upset over being pressured to get married.
Another student, Fariha Tabassum Rumpa of the English department, also committed suicide on October 26. According to her classmates, Rumpa took the extreme step as her family did not approve of her relationship with a man of her choice and instead fixed her marriage with another person.
In September 2000 too, three students allegedly ended their lives. Zakaria Haque Shuvo, a student of management, committed suicide on September 24 over a family dispute, just three days after Kamrul Bahar, a student of the electrical and electronic engineering department, ended his own life.
On September 11, Asif Imtiaz Khan Jisad, a student of political science, committed suicide. However, his family and classmates alleged that he was killed. A probe is underway in the case. Another student, Tarun Sen of the philosophy department also ended his own life on April 6, unable to get a job offer.
Experts attribute the trend to rising mental stress prompted by Covid.
Prof Mahjabeen Haque, the Chairperson of the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, said, "Most people commit suicide owing to depression, personality disorders and mood swings. If these disorders could be taken care of, then we can easily reduce the number of suicides."
According to the university's student counselling office, as many as 358 students sought help between April and October last year. Among them, 90 suffered from depression, 81 anxiety, and 52 were struggling with relationship issues. The remaining were suffering from other psychotic problems.
"Writing notes or expressing frustration through social media is a direct or indirect indication by people contemplating suicides. We have to listen to them, reassure them that they're not alone, their life is valuable," Prof Mahjabeen said. "We shouldn't be worried about the future but have to focus on the present that will lead us to the future. We have to be optimistic."
The leading psychologist also stressed on the need for treating mental illnesses like body ailments. "If our body has more or fewer hormones, we may feel depressed. Feel like we have 'run out of gas', emotionally," Prof Mehjabeen added.
Another psychology Professor and an expert on mental health, Dr Mehtab Khanam said, "Without case by case analysis, it is very difficult to identify the reason behind suicides or such thoughts during Covid. However, if one becomes suicidal, it is our duty to make them busy to help them cope up with the situation better."
DU proctor Professor AKM Golam Rabbani also acknowledged the problem. "It is a matter of deep concern that this suicidal tendency has increased among our brilliant students. I would request them not to ignore life like that. They should know that their life is valuable both to their families and the nation."
When contacted, Prof Md Akhtaruzzaman, the Vice Chancellor, told UNB, "Family, friends, and teachers have to come forward to help those contemplating suicide. We have to take proper action to reduce suicides or such thoughts by finding out the reasons."