Recognising a problem is the first step towards finding a solution. But in the case of mental health issues, it is difficult to identify symptoms. This — compounded by a lack of awareness and the “taboo” status that surrounds mental health — means that many cases go untreated.
The mother of Indian teenager Abhimanyu Sadasivan, who committed suicide two years ago, has spoken about her experience in an attempt to convince troubled children to reach out for help and understand the devastating consequences of suicide on families. She told The National that although academic pressure may have triggered his suicide — he wrote a note about it on an exam paper five days earlier — every time Abhimanyu was asked how he was, he would say he was fine.
This story provides lessons for all parents. The most important one is that communicating with children is critical. Sometimes parents are so caught up with their work and social lives that they lose awareness of their children’s psychological well-being. It’s easier to spot physical diseases than mental illnesses, especially in the case of neurosis, including depression, anxiety, obsessive behaviour and hypochondria. It’s important to have two-way communication with the child and encourage them to come forward if they are distressed or suffer from other negative feelings.
The new child protection law, which came into effect last week, places more responsibility on parents, school staff and others dealing with children to be vigilant about the children's well-being. The legislation is intent on removing the stigma that surrounds depression and mental health issues.
If signs of stress had been detected in the case of Abhimanyu, his suicide may have been prevented. His mother said that she was sure that if he had known how much his family would suffer, he would not have taken his own life.
As we go through another stressful exam period, we should be careful not to put too much pressure on children. And, as a community, we should remember we are all responsible for protecting children and looking out for signs that something may be wrong.