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World Youth Day: What is Happening with the Youth of Sikkim?

The world is celebrating World Youth Day today. The theme of World Youth Day 2021 is “Transforming Food Systems: Youth Innovation for Human and Planetary Health”. The International Youth Day that is marked on August 12 every year since 1999 is a day, as the name suggests, dedicated to initiatives and actions taken by young people across the globe. The day stresses on the importance of the acceptance and encouragement of innovative ideas from young minds to tackle everyday crises. 

According to UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, “Young people are on the frontliners of the struggle to build a better future for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the dire need for the kind of transformational change they seek- the young people must be full partners in that effort.”

With young people achieving great deeds and surmounting various obstacles, the suicide rate among the youth in Sikkim remains on an alarming high. According to data provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among the youth of age groups between 15-19-year-olds. The month of July 2021 has recorded 27 reported suicide cases in the state of Sikkim, of which 11 were below the age of 30; the youngest being two fifteen-year-olds from Gyalshing and Rangpo respectively. 

Sikkim as a state has shown developing rate of economy and growth. According to the 2015-16 Economic Survey, Sikkim was the third-richest State in India. In October 2018, Sikkim also was awarded by the United Nations for becoming 100 percent organic. The state also has a high percentage point of literacy (78.01%). But underneath this green canopy, if one travels to the roots of the society, an alarming suicide rate comes to sight. In a report published by the Nation Crime Reports Bureau (NCRB) in the year 2019, Sikkim ranked first with a high suicide rate of 33.1 percent of cases. In 2015, the suicide rate was 37.5 per 100,000 people, while the national average was only 10.6; more than three times the national average. In a few studies that have been conducted to understand the high rate of suicide in Sikkim, various factors have been pointed out as the reasons for suicide. They include unemployment, substance abuse, loneliness, depression, alcohol abuse, mental illness and so on. 

The Government of Sikkim and its administration has been trying to combat this issue for many years. The Sikkim Mental Health program has been operational since 2011 and they have been organizing various awareness programs across the State. In 2015, a state-funded suicide helpline center was established at the psychiatric department of Sir Thodup Namgyal Memorial Hospital in Gangtok.  Sikkim currently has the Sikkim Police Suicide Helpline and Sikkim Suicide Prevention helpline that offers counselling and necessary help for the ones in need and despair. 

Milan Rai, Project Coordinator, CARE, a non-governmental organization that worked in suicide prevention and promotion of sustainable development said, “Through our regular awareness programs and surveys, we have come to understand that drug abuse is one of the main reasons as of now in Sikkim for suicide. The other reasons include history of broken relationships, parental pressure in studies, sexual abuse of domestic helpers and cyber-crime.”

Dr Harshvardhan Sampath, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry said, “In the case of Sikkim, the actual number of suicides is less; but when considered in proportion to the population, it is very high. One of the reasons could this be an effective system of maintaining records on suicide. All said and done, there are a few things that can be addressed at the level of school and parents and at the level of mental health services.”

“At school level, students are taught what to study and how to study, but not the other areas of personality development. For instance, resilience is a character trait that helps people face stressful situations in better ways. Incorporation of such skills will definitely have a direct impact in bringing down the rate of suicide.” He added.

Dr Satish Rasaily, Psychiatrist, said “Some of the reasons for suicide includes depression, mental health issues and other psycho-social issues. But detection in adolescents is very difficult in comparison to adults. One of the major issues leading to the increasing rate of suicide is the lack of social interaction and withdrawing of individuals into isolated bubbles. Many factors like mobile phones, other technological advancements have impacted the decrease of social skills, which leads to isolation and hence the inability to cope with problems. It would really help if family members come together as a unit and spend more time with each other and take interest in each other’s social and personal life rather than distancing themselves from each other.”

The high suicide rate of Sikkim is a matter of great concern and needs to be addressed. In order to tackle the issue, there is a need for more awareness on mental health, especially in the rural and cut-off parts of the State. It is important for people to feel safe and comfortable to reach out in times of need. And as much as reaching out is important, there is also a necessity to take mental health seriously. In the recent past, there was a lot of discussion on media about the importance of mental health after the suicide of a popular Bollywood celebrity. But this, like any other news, faded away. It is important to address mental health as a serious concern and education on mental health should be promoted among everyone, especially the youth. 

Another avenue through which a change can be brought about is the improvement of communication within the family. It is important for family members to be both comfortable enough to speak to and confide in. If an individual recognizes her/his home as a safe space, then she/he will have someone to express to and vent out to. In many cases, this makes a difference. Hence, in times of the disintegration of joint families and even nuclear families as a unit, it is important to pause, take a while and spend time with our respective families and close ones. This World Youth Day, let us not just acknowledge and dedicate the day to young people, but also take some time to spend with them and know their interests and life. 

By Vaidyanath Nishant. The author is a freelance writer. He can be contacted at 

[email protected]

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