EXAM STRESS- Suicide Prevention

Exam stress and suicide

The term Suicide comes from the Latin word ‘suicidium’, which means “to kill oneself”. At times suicide is defined as an intentional act undertaken with the objective of putting an end to one’s life. Suicide is often committed out of despair, feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or as a reaction to stress or major life hassles like financial difficulties, interpersonal difficulties or it may be attributed to some underlying mental disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, alcoholism, or drug abuse.
According to the WHO reports, it is a leading cause of death among teenagers and adults under the age of 35. The rate of suicide is far higher in men than in women, with males worldwide three to four times are more likely to kill themselves than females.
Surveys have shown that for more than 15 million Indian teenagers, the end of February is a period of significant stress in their lives, where they are seen spending nearly every waking hour cramming for exams. They also view marks obtained by them as a major deciding factor that shall determine their academic future and, possibly, the course of their life. For instance, for 10th graders, the marks determine the stream they are going to get. And for 12th graders doing well means getting into one of the elite universities and getting a shot at the prestigious and increasingly well-paid careers that often come with such a degree. As a result, exams begin to appear as major monsters dancing on their heads. This building pressure and never ending expectation of parents, further add to their stress. As a result, this sets the never ending spiral of negativity comprising of tremendous pressure, low self-esteem, low confidence level, feeling of suffocation, helplessness, hopeless which seems to reach its culmination sometimes in suicide.
In 2006, according to the official figures, nearly 5,857 students — or 16 a day — committed suicide across India due to exam stress. Both the board exams and entrance exams tend to get stress levels soaring in students. It has been shown by research that the students who commit suicide are already so low and distressed that they’re not inclined to call help centres, thus making it all the more difficult for them to seek necessary help.
In fact, suicidal behaviour is the end result of a complex interaction of social, familial and psychiatric factors. There are far more suicidal attempts and gestures than actual completed suicides. One epidemiological study estimated that there were 23 suicidal gestures and attempts for every completed suicide. It is seen that 10% of those who attempt suicide are more likely to go on to a later completed suicide.

Some research suggests that there are generally two types of suicidal behaviours—– planned suicidal behaviour and impulsive suicidal behaviour.

  • Planned suicidal behaviour: is one in which the suicide was well planned and thought out. It is normally conducted by people who have been severely ill or chronically distressed.
  • Impulsive suicidal behaviour: is one which the suicidal act was never a planned one but was rather impulsive in nature. It is normally conducted by people who were too stressed a point in life and tended to see suicide as the only way of putting an end to their misery.
  • Risk factor that tend to predispose teens to commit suicide.
  • Some of the factors that increase the risk of a suicide in teens are as follows:
  • Previous suicide attempts: if a child had tried to commit suicide in the past, then it increases the chances of engaging in such behaviour again, when stressed.
  • Current suicidal thoughts: no suicidal talk should be taken lightly. The fact one is talking about it, means one is increasingly getting such thoughts, hence each such talk should be taken seriously. Their talking about suicide is a way of telling others that they are distressed and need help. If such talks are ignored they may predispose one to commit suicide.
  • Preoccupation with death and dying: frequently talking about death or dying in any form is also an indicator that the person might commit suicide.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse: drug and alcohol use has been significantly associated with increased risk for committing suicide. Drugs decrease impulse control making impulsive suicide more likely.
  • Access to firearms: the more easy access one has to various means that can be used to commit suicide, higher is the chance of committing the suicide.
  • Situational stress: since stress is subjective in nature. i.e., what may be stressful for one may not be stressful for the other. However, there are still certain situations that are likely to be stressful for most. Exams is one such situation. The more stressed a person feels the more he or she is likely to resort to suicide as a way of putting an end to his or her stress.
  • Depressive features: presence of depressive features like sad, anxious or “empty” mood; declining school performance; loss of pleasure/interest in social and sports activities; sleeping too much or too little and changes in weight or appetite etc. also increase the risk for committing suicide.
  • Behavioural changes: any significant change noticed in someone’s behaviour, for instance, if one starts giving away special possessions or seem to make arrangements to take care of unfinished business etc, then it can be a significant indicator of possibility of that person committing suicide.
  • Close family member who has committed suicide: if the persons closed family member had committed suicide then it increases the person’s risk of committing suicide.
  • Recent losses: such as the death of a relative, a family divorce, or a breakup with a girlfriend etc also increase the risk of suicide.

Steps that can be taken to deal with suicidal behaviour

If the child feels suicidal, the following steps need to be taken as a parent
• Take each talk or statement about suicide seriously
• Provide support and reassurance. Listen carefully to your child, avoid undue criticism and let them know that you are always there for him.
• At home, provide 24-hour vigilance and remove all pointed objects like knife or blade or things like medication, repellent killers etc. under lock and key that can be used to commit suicide
• Do take your child to a Mental Health professional
If the child feels suicidal, the following steps need to be taken as a counsellor
• Take each talk or statement about suicide seriously
• Provide support and reassurance. Listen carefully to your child, avoid undue criticism and let them know that you are always there for him.
• Inform the parents of the child who reports feeling suicidal immediately
• Always keep numbers of Mental Health professionals ready for emergency reference
• Ask parents to meet a Mental Health professional immediately
If your friend feels suicidal and talks to you about it, the following steps can be taken by you
• Take your friend’s talks and actions seriously
• Always support your friend and listen to him in an empathetic way
• Even if your friend asks you not to tell anybody about it, please do inform a trusted adult.

  • Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t be alone in helping your friend.
  • Encourage your friend to seek professional help, accompany him or her if necessary.

The above mentioned steps can be followed to be able to effectively deal with exam , so that exams no more become a source of distress.

You can also read our Blogs on:

  1. What is Exam Stress-” Don’t limit your challenges ,challenge your limits.”
  2. Exam Stress: Facts and Myths
  3. Managing Exam Stress – “Manage Stress, before it manages you”.
  4. Preparing for the D-DAY- Exam Stress
  5. Suicide Prevention- Exam Stress

If you have any more questions on this area or would like to speak to somebody about this topic, you can contact our counselors at our Helpline Number:


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