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Reducing exposure to violence and positive parenting are critical to suicide prevention among Indian youth.

Suicide has been on a steady increase in India with the highest numbers being women between 18-35 years. : PRIYANSHU Rawal Unsplash Suicide has been on a steady increase in India with the highest numbers being women between 18-35 years. : PRIYANSHU Rawal Unsplash

Reducing exposure to violence and positive parenting are critical to suicide prevention among Indian youth.

Teenage girls who are married are potentially at a higher risk of suicide than any other group in India, research has found.

Suicide has been on a steady increase in India with the highest numbers being women between 18-35 years.

And one of the major drivers of suicidal thoughts in high-risk groups is exposure to family violence. For young married women (aged 15-19) this could include abuse from a spouse or parents. Or both.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a notable rise in suicides among younger people in India. National statistics show that rates of suicides in India have been creeping up from 10.2 per 100,000 population in 2018 to 12.4 per 100,000 population in 2022. 

In numbers, this translates to a rise from 1.34 lakh or 130,000 annual suicides in 2018 to 1.70 lakh or 170,000 suicides in 2022, a concerning trend.

Most vulnerable among these are 18-30 and 30-45 year olds, with higher prevalence of suicide among younger women

National data shows that nearly 1 in 3 (31.7 percent) suicides are attributed to ‘family problems’. Other reasons include illness and addiction, relationship issues (9 percent), financial stress, mismatch in professional or academic expectations and social stigma (such as fall in social reputation, infertility and illicit relationships).

Many of these reasons don’t operate singularly, and often the underlying triggers can be complex and hard to establish.

Biggest risk factors

In our study to understand suicidal ideation and self-harm among teenagers (10-19 year olds) in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, we found that the highest risks of suicidal ideation and self-harm behaviours were among married adolescent girls (15-19 years of age).

Self-harm behaviours were more prevalent among 10-14 year olds, and these likely transitioned to suicidal ideation as adolescents got older. 

Exposure to violence (witnessed or experienced) was a key determinant of depressive symptoms, suicidal ideation and self-harm behaviours.

This included witnessing domestic violence or experiencing violence within the home by a parent or spouse. 

Older boys were more likely to report physical violence from a parent, while some married adolescent girls reported a double jeopardy — experience of violence from a parent and a spouse.

National estimates on domestic violence show that a significant number of women continue to justify scenarios where intimate partner violence in the household may be acceptable. This shows that despite stringent laws, social norms related to acceptability of violence within homes has been harder to change.

Research shows that early exposure to forms of violence on impressionable young people can manifest as self-harming behaviours, but also lead to a re-enactment of this behaviour among men as they grow older. 

Media (be it film, television or social media) has also introduced and normalised several forms of violence, which has set unequal gender roles and expectations in relationships, and deracinated young people from the repercussions on themselves and their social networks.

Positive parenting

Rapidly growing digitisation has also isolated young people instead of connecting them in times of adversity such as experience of violence.

Rigorous data on understanding violence experienced by young people, within homes, schools or among peers can provide insights on early adversity faced by teenagers and young people, and enable resources for prevention and protection.

One potential area for intervention can be positive parenting, noted via parent-child communication and relationship quality that our research found was a protective factor against girl child marriage.

However, positive parenting cannot be decoupled from gender equitable norms and expectations within the household related to parenting and caregiving. 

It also questions our acceptance of parenting values of authority and discipline, enforcement of which can also be resorted through violence by the parent. 

Here, children are expected to uphold family values and honour, and may be pressured into professional and personal decisions which are not their own and which may lead to future distress or even a crisis.

To address these complex social and structural factors that drive young people towards self-harm and suicide, there is a need to examine the social roots of violence within homes and outside, establish non-acceptance of violent behaviour and set up channels to avail resources when crises arise.

US Surgeon General Dr Vivek Murthy, in a powerful piece, wrote about the harms from unregulated use of social media among young people on mental health. 

Violent media content

Despite these warnings across studies, violent content is flowing unfiltered, encouraging and celebrating several toxic behaviours and role models that are harmful for the mental health of individuals and a threat to just and equitable societies.

The vulnerability of today’s youth towards mental health and self-harm behaviour is serious. With greater reliance on technology in daily life, social avenues, opportunities and motivation for social interaction is shrinking. This vulnerability has compounded and identifying interventions that might provide resilience need our urgent attention.

Most people advocate the importance of prosocial behaviours — such as concern for others, fraternity, leadership and resilience among young people — but this is hard to achieve if parents and teachers don’t have the resources for greater empathy. 

Parenting today is more complex than ever before due to unprecedented social changes such as changes in the structures of families, economic precarity, and a flux in gender roles and expectations. Parents often themselves feel lost, having no resources to navigate their own lives or create positive channels of communication with their children.

It is important that structural shifts related to caregiving and parenting roles are first imbibed by families and other institutions that enable young people to achieve their goals, live full lives and prevent them from self-harm and worse.

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Dr Nandita Bhan is Professor at the Jindal School of Public Health at O.P. Jindal Global University. She engages with the Gender Project at UC San Diego and is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP).

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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