“Mummy-Papa, I can’t do JEE”: Teen Girl Commits Suicide in Kota Rajasthan

Early on Monday morning, an 18-year-old girl in Kota, Rajasthan, committed suicide. She left behind a letter stating that she was taking this drastic measure as a final choice since she “can’t do JEE.”

Niharika Solanki, the teenager, was living with her parents and preparing for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE), which was scheduled for January 31, according to Deputy Superintendent of Police in Kota, Dharamveer Singh.

She allegedly left behind the following note: “Mummy papa, I can’t do JEE so I (commit) suicide.” I am a loser. Worst daughter. sorry mummy papa. Yahi last option he.

This tragic incident has once again brought to light the urgent need to address the mental health challenges faced by students across the country, especially those who are under immense academic pressure and stress. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of this issue and suggest some possible solutions to prevent such tragedies in the future.

The JEE and Kota Challenge

The JEE is one of the most difficult and prestigious entrance exams in India, conducted for admission to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and other top engineering colleges. Every year, over 1.5 million students appear for the JEE, out of which only around 10,000 get selected for the IITs. This means that the success rate is less than 1%, making it a highly competitive and stressful exam.

Many students start preparing for the JEE from an early age, often sacrificing their hobbies, interests, and social life. They enroll in coaching institutes that promise to provide them with the best guidance and training for the exam. Kota, a city in Rajasthan, is the most popular destination for JEE aspirants, as it is home to several renowned coaching institutes that claim to have produced thousands of IITians over the years.

However, life in Kota is not easy for the students, who have to cope with a lot of challenges. They have to live away from their families, in cramped and crowded hostels, with limited facilities and amenities. They have to follow a rigorous and demanding schedule, with long hours of classes, tests, and self-study.

They have to deal with the constant pressure of performing well, meeting the expectations of their parents and teachers, and competing with their peers. They have to face the uncertainty and anxiety of their future prospects, as the JEE is not a guarantee of success or happiness.

Tragic Incident: A Call to Action

In Kota, Rajasthan, 18-year-old Niharika Solanki tragically took her own life, leaving behind a note expressing that the intense pressure of preparing for the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) had become too much.

Niharika, living with her parents, was deeply engrossed in preparing for the upcoming JEE scheduled for January 31. Her father, a security guard, was away at work when the incident occurred.

This heartbreaking event is not isolated in Kota, a city known for a distressing number of suicides among students preparing for competitive exams. Just last week, another JEE aspirant from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh also took his own life.

Despite scoring 70% in the RBSE Board, Niharika fell short of the 75% needed for JEE eligibility. She was diligently studying for the Class 12 exam again to meet the criteria set by the National Testing Agency.

Friends and family described Niharika’s dedication, spending around 8-9 hours daily on studies, including six hours of coaching. This tragedy highlights the challenges students face, despite their best efforts and commitment.

Efforts by the Kota district administration to address the mental health challenges faced by students include ‘Kamyab Kota,’ where the District Collector meets with coaching students every Friday for dinner to discuss any issues they may be facing.

Despite these initiatives, the alarming trend of student suicides in Kota continues, underscoring the persistent challenges in addressing this pressing issue.

This is not an isolated case, as Kota has witnessed several such suicides among students in the past few years. According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Kota recorded 100 student suicides between 2014 and 2019, the highest among all cities in India.

In 2023 alone, 19 students took their own lives in Kota, mostly due to academic stress and failure. These numbers are alarming and indicate a serious problem that needs immediate attention and action.

We cannot afford to lose more young lives to the JEE and Kota challenge. We need to recognize that this is not just a personal or individual issue, but a collective and societal one.

We need to take responsibility and work together to create a safer and healthier environment for our students, where they can pursue their dreams without compromising their mental well-being.

Understanding Academic Stress

Academic stress is a common and normal phenomenon that affects most students at some point in their educational journey. It is the feeling of pressure, tension, or anxiety that arises from academic demands, expectations, or challenges. Academic stress can have both positive and negative effects on students.

On one hand, it can motivate them to work harder, improve their performance, and achieve their goals. On the other hand, it can overwhelm them, impair their functioning, and harm their health.

There are various factors that contribute to academic stress among students, such as:

  • Curriculum: The syllabus, content, and difficulty level of the subjects and exams can cause stress to students, especially if they find them too hard, boring, or irrelevant.
  • Competition: The presence of peers, rivals, or benchmarks can cause stress to students, especially if they compare themselves to others, feel inferior, or fear failure.
  • Expectations: The standards, goals, or aspirations set by oneself, parents, teachers, or society can cause stress to students, especially if they are too high, unrealistic, or conflicting.
  • Environment: The physical, social, and emotional conditions of the place where students study can cause stress to students, especially if they are uncomfortable, unsupportive, or hostile.

Academic stress can have a significant impact on the mental well-being of students. It can affect their mood, cognition, behavior, and health. Some of the common effects of academic stress are:

  • Depression: A persistent feeling of sadness, hopelessness, or worthlessness that interferes with daily functioning and enjoyment of life.
  • Anxiety: A persistent feeling of nervousness, fear, or worry that interferes with daily functioning and performance.
  • Low self-esteem: A negative evaluation of oneself, one’s abilities, or one’s worth.
  • Burnout: A state of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged or excessive stress.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior: A serious and potentially fatal outcome of extreme stress, depression, or hopelessness.

Recognizing Signs of Mental Health Struggles

Mental health is a vital and integral part of our overall well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also affects how we cope with stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Mental health is not a fixed or static state, but a dynamic and fluctuating one. It can change over time, depending on various factors, such as life events, circumstances, or experiences.

Mental health struggles are common and normal, and can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, background, or status. They are not a sign of weakness, fault, or failure. They are not something to be ashamed of, ignored, or hidden. They are something to be acknowledged, understood, and addressed.

Mental health struggles can manifest in different ways, depending on the individual, the situation, and the severity. However, there are some common signs and symptoms that can indicate that someone is going through a mental health issue, such as:

  • Changes in mood: Feeling sad, angry, irritable, or numb more often or more intensely than usual.
  • Changes in cognition: Having difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions more often or more severely than usual.
  • Changes in behavior: Acting differently from one’s normal self, such as withdrawing from social activities, losing interest in hobbies, neglecting responsibilities, or engaging in risky or harmful behaviors.
  • Changes in physical health: Experiencing physical problems, such as headaches, stomachaches, fatigue, insomnia, or appetite changes, more frequently or more severely than usual.

These signs and symptoms are not definitive or conclusive, and they may vary from person to person. However, they can serve as warning signals that something is not right, and that help may be needed. Therefore, it is important to be aware of these signs and symptoms, both in oneself and in others, and to take them seriously.

Importance of Open Communication

One of the most effective and essential ways to deal with mental health struggles is to communicate openly and honestly about them. Communication is the process of exchanging information, ideas, feelings, or opinions with others, through verbal or non-verbal means.

Communication can have various purposes, such as informing, persuading, entertaining, or expressing. Communication can also have various benefits, such as enhancing understanding, building trust, resolving conflicts, or creating bonds.

Open communication is a type of communication that is characterized by honesty, transparency, and authenticity. Open communication is not only about what we say, but also how we say it, and how we listen. Open communication involves:

  • Speaking up: Sharing one’s thoughts, feelings, or concerns with others, without fear, judgment, or hesitation.
  • Listening actively: Paying attention to what others are saying, without interrupting, criticizing, or dismissing.
  • Asking questions: Seeking clarification, feedback, or support from others, without assuming, accusing, or blaming.
  • Showing empathy: Understanding and acknowledging the emotions, perspectives, or experiences of others, without minimizing, invalidating, or comparing.

Open communication is especially important for parents and children, as it can foster a healthy and positive relationship between them. Parents play a crucial role in the mental health of their children, as they can influence their development, behavior, and well-being. Parents can support their children’s mental health by:

  • Creating a safe and supportive environment: Providing a comfortable and nurturing space where children can feel accepted, valued, and loved.
  • Encouraging expression and exploration: Allowing children to express their emotions, opinions, and interests, and to explore their potential, talents, and passions.
  • Setting boundaries and limits: Establishing clear and reasonable rules, expectations, and consequences for children, and enforcing them consistently and fairly.
  • Showing interest and involvement: Taking time to talk to, listen to, and spend quality time with children, and showing genuine curiosity and care for their lives.
  • Providing guidance and feedback: Helping children to set realistic and attainable goals, and to plan and execute strategies to achieve them, and providing constructive and positive feedback along the way.
  • Seeking help when needed: Recognizing when children are facing mental health issues that require professional intervention, and seeking appropriate help from qualified sources.

Open communication can help parents and children to understand each other better, to resolve conflicts more effectively, and to support each other more empathetically. Open communication can also help children to develop their self-esteem, confidence, and resilience, and to cope with stress, challenges, and emotions more healthily.

Support Systems in Educational Institutions

Educational institutions, such as schools and colleges, also play a vital role in the mental health of students, as they are the places where students spend most of their time, learn new skills, and interact with others. Educational institutions can support the mental health of students by:

  • Creating a positive and inclusive culture: Fostering a culture of respect, diversity, and collaboration among students, teachers, and staff, and discouraging bullying, discrimination, and violence.
  • Promoting academic excellence and well-being: Providing a balanced and holistic curriculum that caters to the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs of students, and offering a variety of learning opportunities and experiences that suit their interests, abilities, and aspirations.
  • Providing mental health education and awareness: Incorporating mental health topics and skills into the curriculum, and organizing workshops, seminars, or campaigns to educate and sensitize students, teachers, and staff about mental health issues, signs, and resources.
  • Providing mental health support and services: Implementing counseling services and stress-relief programs that are accessible, affordable, and confidential for students, and training teachers and staff to identify and refer students who need mental health assistance.
  • Collaborating with parents and community: Establishing regular and open communication with parents and community partners, and involving them in the planning and implementation of mental health initiatives and activities.

Support systems in educational institutions can help students to feel safe, valued, and motivated in their learning environment, and to develop their academic, social, and emotional competencies and resilience. Support systems can also help students to prevent, identify, and address their mental health issues, and to access the help they need.

Mental Health Resources and Helplines

Mental health resources and helplines are external sources of information, guidance, and assistance that can help students who are facing mental health challenges. These resources and helplines can be accessed online, over the phone, or in person, depending on the availability and preference of the user. Some of the common types of mental health resources and helplines are:

  • Websites and apps: These are online platforms that provide information, tips, tools, and activities related to mental health, such as articles, videos, quizzes, games, podcasts, or blogs. Some examples of websites and apps are: YourDost, Mindler, iCALL, MindShift, and Headspace.
  • Chatbots and online chat services: These are online platforms that provide instant and interactive communication with a trained counselor, therapist, or volunteer, who can listen, empathize, and offer support and advice. Some examples of chatbots and online chat services are: Wysa, 7 Cups, Talkspace, and BetterHelp.
  • Helplines and hotlines: These are phone numbers that connect the caller with a trained counselor, therapist, or volunteer, who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, and referral services. Some examples of helplines and hotlines are: AASRA, Sneha, Vandrevala Foundation, and Sumaitri.
  • Counseling centers and clinics: These are physical locations that offer professional counseling, therapy, or psychiatric services to individuals or groups, either for free or for a fee. Some examples of counseling centers and clinics are: Fortis Healthcare, Manastha, Hope Network, and NIMHANS.

Mental health resources and helplines can provide students with valuable information, support, and guidance, and help them to cope with their mental health issues more effectively. They can also help students to overcome the stigma, fear, or hesitation that may prevent them from seeking help.

However, these resources and helplines are not substitutes for professional diagnosis or treatment, and they may not be suitable for everyone or every situation. Therefore, it is important to consult a qualified mental health professional if the symptoms persist or worsen, or if there is a risk of harm to oneself or others.

Community Involvement and Awareness Campaigns

Community involvement and awareness campaigns are collective efforts by various stakeholders, such as NGOs, media, celebrities, influencers, or activists, to raise awareness and generate action on mental health issues among the public. These efforts can take various forms, such as:

  • Events and activities: These are organized events or activities that aim to educate, engage, and entertain the public on mental health topics, such as workshops, seminars, webinars, rallies, walks, runs, or concerts. Some examples of events and activities are: World Mental Health Day, Mental Health Film Festival, Mental Health Marathon, and Mental Health Comedy Hour.
  • Campaigns and movements: These are organized campaigns or movements that aim to inspire, empower, and mobilize the public on mental health causes, such as advocacy, fundraising, or policy change. Some examples of campaigns and movements are: Bell Let’s Talk, Time to Change, You Are Not Alone, and My Mind Matters.
  • Stories and testimonials: These are personal stories or testimonials shared by individuals who have experienced or overcome mental health issues, or who have supported someone who has. These stories or testimonials can be shared through various media, such as books, podcasts, blogs, videos, or social media. Some examples of stories and testimonials are: The Depression Project, The Happiness Project, The Bipolar Project, and The Anxiety Project.

Community involvement and awareness campaigns can help to create a positive and supportive environment for students and others who are facing mental health challenges. They can help to break the silence, stigma, and myths around mental health, and to promote a culture of openness, acceptance, and compassion. They can also help to increase the availability and accessibility of mental health resources and services, and to influence the policies and practices that affect mental health.

Government Initiatives and Policy Suggestions

Government initiatives and policy suggestions are actions or proposals by the government or its agencies to address the mental health issues and needs of the population, especially the students. These actions or proposals can be at various levels, such as national, state, or local, and can involve various sectors, such as education, health, or social welfare. Some examples of government initiatives and policy suggestions are:

  • National Mental Health Policy: This is a comprehensive and integrated policy framework that outlines the vision, objectives, strategies, and actions for improving the mental health of the nation. The policy covers various aspects of mental health, such as prevention, promotion, treatment, rehabilitation, research, and human rights. The policy also allocates the roles and responsibilities of various stakeholders, such as the central government, state governments, civil society, and private sector. The policy was launched by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2014, and is based on the principles of universality, equity, quality, and participation.
  • National Mental Health Programme: This is a flagship programme that implements the National Mental Health Policy, and aims to provide accessible, affordable, and quality mental health care to the population. The programme covers various components of mental health care, such as district mental health programme, manpower development, information, education and communication, research and training, and monitoring and evaluation. The programme was initiated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 1982, and is currently being implemented in 692 districts across the country.
  • Mental Healthcare Act: This is a landmark legislation that protects and promotes the rights of persons with mental illness, and regulates the provision of mental health care services in the country. The act defines and recognizes various aspects of mental illness, such as diagnosis, treatment, consent, capacity, advance directive, nominated representative, and emergency care. The act also establishes various authorities and mechanisms, such as mental health review board, mental health establishment, mental health professional, and mental health care fund. The act was passed by the Parliament in 2017, and came into force in 2018.
  • National Education Policy: This is a comprehensive and visionary policy document that outlines the vision, objectives, principles, and strategies for transforming the education system in the country. The policy covers various aspects of education, such as curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, teacher, student, institution, governance, and financing. The policy also emphasizes the importance of integrating mental health and well-being into the education system, and proposes various measures, such as:
    • Developing a holistic and multidisciplinary curriculum that includes life skills, values, and ethics, and that fosters creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving among students.
    • Implementing a flexible and continuous assessment system that reduces the stress and anxiety associated with exams, and that focuses on the learning outcomes and competencies of students.
    • Providing adequate and regular training and support to teachers and school leaders on mental health and well-being, and creating a conducive and respectful work environment for them.
    • Ensuring the availability and accessibility of counselors, psychologists, and social workers in every school and college, and creating a referral network with the health system for students who need specialized care.
    • Promoting the physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being of students through various activities, such as sports, yoga, meditation, art, music, and drama.
    • Encouraging the participation and engagement of parents and community members in the education process, and creating a culture of trust, collaboration, and feedback among them.

The policy was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2020, and is currently being implemented in phases across the country.

Government initiatives and policy suggestions can help to create a conducive and supportive policy and legal environment for students and others who are facing mental health challenges.

They can help to ensure the availability, accessibility, affordability, and quality of mental health care services, and to protect and promote the rights and dignity of persons with mental illness.

They can also help to create a synergy and alignment among various sectors and stakeholders, and to leverage the resources and opportunities for improving the mental health of the nation.

Conclusion: Turning Tragedy into Advocacy

The suicide of the 17-year-old girl in Kota, Rajasthan, is a tragic and heartbreaking incident that has shaken the conscience of the nation. It is also a wake-up call and a reminder of the gravity and urgency of the mental health crisis that is affecting millions of students and others in the country.

It is a call to action and a challenge to all of us, to turn this tragedy into advocacy, and to work together to create a better and brighter future for our students and our society.

We cannot afford to lose more young lives to the JEE and Kota challenge, or to any other academic or social pressure. We need to recognize that our students are not just numbers, ranks, or marks, but human beings, with dreams, emotions, and potential.

We need to respect and value them for who they are, not for what they do or achieve. We need to support and empower them to pursue their goals, without compromising their mental health and well-being.

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