Context: The Ministry of Education released draft guidelines known as UMMEED (Understand, Motivate, Manage, Empathise, Empower, Develop), for schools to prevent suicide among students.
Reason for increasing cases of suicides among students
- Suicide is a complex interplay of personal and social factors, which is rarely caused by a single circumstance or event. It has an impact on the family, school and community at large.
- Students go through many transitions during their school life which can cause extreme stress, for example, transition from home to school, from one school to another, school to college, losing a parent/sibling/friend/near and dear one, etc.
- Also experience changes as they progress through the developmental stages, leading to concerns such as those related to physical changes and appearance, peer pressure, career decisions, academic pressure, and pressuring students into preparing for competitive examinations.
- Negative school environment like negative relationships with peers/teachers, discrimination, bullying, harassment, humiliation, isolation, etc.
- Absence of school-family connects, parental neglect/ abuse, lack of acceptance/recognition by family members, family history of suicide, Criticism/ bullying by family members .
Warning Signs of Students at Risk
- Feelings: Hopelessness, guilt, shame, self-hatred, exhaustion persistent sadness among students.
- Behaviours: Withdrawal from Social Interactions, friends, classmates, and family, lack of concentration such as being absent-minded, forgetful, and/or restlessness in class, sudden, mood changes, change in appetite/sleeping patterns.
- Actions: Lack of Participation, losing interest in previously enjoyed school activities, being careless about safety, use of substances (smoking, alcohol, etc.), decline in overall quality of academic and other school work and becoming detached.
- To serve as directions to schools for enhancing sensitivity, and understanding, and providing support in case of reported self-harm.
- Guidelines have been issued under the National Education Policy (NEP), 2020, which aims for holistic education, encompassing cognitive and emotional development.
- Taking proactive steps to identify students exhibiting warning signs and thereby at risk for self-harm, creating a dedicated team in school, promoting a supportive school environment, and building the capacity of the stakeholders
Plan of action for schools
- Setting up of School Wellness Team (SWT): This may be formed under the leadership of the School Principal, where each member of SWT is oriented in handling crises.
- When a student displaying warning signs has been identified by any stakeholder, they need to be reported to the SWT, which takes immediate action.
- It plays an important role in the implementation of school activities directed towards creating awareness about mental well-being, leading to suicide prevention.
- It is important for the school to review the effectiveness of SWT and its functioning on an annual basis.
- Promoting a positive school environment: To be prepared to respond to a crisis, it is also important to promote and strengthen the protective factors and reduce the risk factors.
- It plays a pivotal role in supporting student well-being and reducing the risk of suicide. Raising awareness about mental health is an integral part of it.
- It promotes open dialogue, which can reduce the stigma associated with seeking help and encourage students to reach out for support without fear of judgment or isolation.
Actions for promoting a positive school environment:
- Encouraging peer support: Through group activities, clubs, events, etc.
- Organising activities regularly for relaxing/reducing stress: Like yoga, meditation, art, music, etc.
- Providing channels for expression: Such as access to a trained counsellor, help boxes, or suggestions boxes to express concerns and seek help.
- Compiling resources to seek support: Helpline numbers, phone numbers and email IDs of Counsellors and SWT members, brochures and pamphlets on causes, risk factors, protective factors, warning signs, etc.
- Integrating Mental Well-being in School Functioning: Including aspects of mental well-being in daily interactions, open discussions, assembly time, different programmes, subject-teaching, etc.)
- Creating a Safe Environment in School and Beyond: In school: Locking empty classrooms, lighting up dark corridors, cleaning gardens and areas with excess growth of grass and places beyond school: vigilance at railway tracks, river banks, bridges, cliffs, medical shops, etc.
- Encouraging School-Community Partnerships: Among all stakeholders: school administrators, teachers, counsellors, students, medical staff, supporting staff, parents, and community.
- Building Awareness about Mental Well-being among all Stakeholders: Through Role plays, Storytelling, Nukkad natak, Rallies, Posters, Exhibitions, Annual Day themes, etc.)
- Building capacity for different stakeholders to prevent suicides and respond to crises in schools, it is crucial to empower all stakeholders, including teachers, staff, students, and families.
- Responding immediately and supporting students at risk: Immediate action is required in both situations of at-risk behaviours, i.e., when the student is displaying warning signs and attempting self-harm through maintaining records of at-risk behaviours of a student and follow-up on the student and SWT members need to connect with parents after the incident to follow up on the student.
- They divided warning signs into three categories– feelings, behaviour and actions.
- Students who exhibit feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt and shame, or have a lack of concentration, withdrawal from social interactions and sudden mood swings are at risk.
- They also place students with reckless behaviour, talking about self-harm or ending life and becoming detached, among others, as those displaying warning signs.
- Appraisal of actions taken by the school: Schools should conduct regular assessments to reflect on their suicide prevention efforts. SWT and other stakeholders should meet periodically to discuss their experiences in implementing guidelines and analyse feedback for areas needing improvement.