A disturbing rise in suicide among minors in Nepal

Anushka Nepal

Anushka Nepal

A disturbing rise in suicide among minors in Nepal

A huge part of the problem also lies in the fact that our society is yet not fully aware about the concept of mental health and psychological counseling

A little less than a month ago, two ninth graders studying at Pathshala Nepal Foundation committed suicide. After school, still dressed in their school uniforms, they jumped from the sixth floor of a building which was under construction in Budhanagar, Kathmandu. A suicide note was found in the bag of one of the students. It said she had made a mistake.

This incident has troubled parents and children alike. Sabina Shah Bam, mother of a 10th grader at Pathshala, says she is worried about her son. Muna Uprety, whose son studies in fifth grade in the same school, says her son feels anxious about his sister.

According to Nepal Police’s data of the past five fiscal years, the number of suicides among minors has been escalating. There were a total of 255, 459, 661, 764, and 709 suicides among minors in the fiscal years 2017/18, 2018/19, 2019/20, 2020/21, and 2021/22 respectively.

Dan Bahadur Karki, senior police officer and an acting spokesperson of Nepal Police, says that many minor suicides are impuslive decisions. “There are instances where minors have attempted suicide due to petty quarrels with their family,” he says. The triggers are also love affairs, disagreements with friends, and a bad family environment.

“Parents tend to compare their children with others their age. The pressure leads to mental health issues,” says Binod Pokharel, anthropologist, Tribhuvan University. He says most children get a sense that they aren’t good enough and that can be extremely discomfiting. “Suicide is not just an individual problem. It’s often fueled by societal pressure,” he says.

Psychologist Sita Lama says that suicide is often the last resort for anyone who is suffering from mental health issues. The signs of mental stress are visible from an early age but Lama believes many parents are unable to notice those signals. “What’s worse is that some parents scold their children rather than asking them if they are okay,” she adds.

“There are parents and teachers who think that scolding or beating their children is a great way of disciplining them,” says Tashi Gurung, who works as an in-house counseling psychologist at a school. He has also seen children being physically and verbally assaulted by parents and even teachers. Physically or verbally assaulting a child isn’t allowed in schools in the valley, but still, according to Gurung, it’s a fairly regular thing. “One can only imagine what the situation is like outside the valley,” he adds.

Parbati Dahal, teacher at Balbalika English Secondary Boarding School, has seen parents abuse their children. Bad grades often elicit severe beating. She adds that students are under a lot of pressure from the school as well as their parents to top their class. This not only causes mental anguish but takes the fun away from learning. Psychologist Krishangi says many parents are still following the orthodox method of parenting that is doing more harm than good. The result is that children feel isolated and unloved. It also creates a distance between the parents and children.

Some schools have appointed in-house counselors to monitor children’ mental health status. Sometimes parents are also required to take counseling sessions with or about their children. “But many are not that receptive to the counselor’s suggestions,” says Churamani Pandey, a secondary incharge in Triyog Higher Secondary School. “They argue that it’s the child’s behavior that’s causing the problem.”

Mobile phones have also had a significant effect on the mental health status of children, says Dambar Chemjong, anthropologist, Tribhuvan University. “Children are given mobile phones at such an early age these days. They are bound to watch things they shouldn’t be watching,” he says. There is a lot of disturbing information on the internet too, and children don’t have the maturity to handle such information. “It’s important for parents to monitor what their children are doing on the net,” he says.

Parents aren’t also allocating enough time to listen to their children and know how their day went and that is widening the distance between the two, argues Krishangi. Children generally fear their parents will get angry or they will get into trouble which is why they tend to hide things. But opening up a communication channel by asking them about their day and being interested in it might make it easier for them to share their thoughts and feelings. “It’s absolutely necessary to be your child’s friend and not just his/her guardian,” says Sujata Adhikari, teacher, Pathshala Nepal Foundation. She adds that until a parent is able to build that bond with their children, it’s unlikely they will share anything.

But gaining their trust also requires you to maintain the same trust for a long run. “My son and I play a little game where I become his younger sister, during which he shares every little detail about his day,” says Uprety. “He is able to trust that little sister more than the mother. And I feel it’s my responsibility to maintain that trust.”  Usually, parents tend to take conversations with their children very lightly. Sometimes they tell other people what their children told them in confidence. “Doing so makes the child question the trust s/he put on a parent, and they will eventually refrain from sharing,” says Abhishekh Bariya, counseling psychologist.

“Also, it’s necessary for couples to avoid arguments in front of their children,” he adds. “Growing up seeing their parents fight can bring about a lot of insecurities in children, which can result in several mental health issues.” Analyzing many cases with the in-house counselor, Pandey of Triyog has found that a disturbing household environment is responsible for a lot of behavioral and mental health issues. “Students refrain from returning home. In some cases, I have had to request parents to create a friendly environment at home,” he says.

A huge part of the problem also lies in the fact that our society is yet not fully aware about the concept of mental health and psychological counseling. Dristy Moktan, psychosocial counselor, says that counseling is not just necessary for children but also for parents. “Taking advice from a professional on better parenting ways can help create a better environment for children to grow up,” she adds.

Several schools have started to appoint counselors in order to keep a proper check on the students’ mental health. SK Koirala, principal, Elite Grand School, says that having a counselor at school assures the students that they always have a safe space should they feel the need for it. “Not everyone is able to share everything with their parents or teachers,” he says.

Similarly, Triyog has been appointing a counselor for the past 11 year. “Before, parents did not like the idea of their children visiting the counselor. But lately there’s been a positive shift,” says Pandey. The school also provides counseling for parents as and when needed.

Anthropologist Chemjong says there must be an approach that helps parents and teachers understand children and respond to signs to distress before it manifests in unfortunate ways such as suicide. Proper parenting guidance for couples, training for teachers, and making counselors compulsory in schools can go a long way. Psychologist Krishangi says the onus is largely on the parents. “Unfortunately, Nepal does not have any physical or online parenting sessions to help out couples,” she says, “but I’m hopeful that in time those sessions will also be introduced.” For better understanding of their childrens’ behavior outside their homes, Sushila Khadka, another teacher from Pathshala Nepal Foundation, suggests parents to be in constant communication with their children’s schools and teachers as well.

Number of suicide among minors in the past five fiscal year

Source: Nepal Police 

Fiscal year No. of suicide (below 18 years of age)
2017/18 255
2018/19 459
2019/20 661
2020/21 764
2021/22 709