No national happiness
An alarming suicide rate, especially among the Indian youth, is a serious cause for concern.
I won't say I've travelled a lot, but in the last few years I have packed in quite an experience. I love to travel; to wander about aimlessly and stumble upon hidden delights, or move at a determined pace to a tourist attraction that has witnessed history; I love it all. Travel has opened a tightly wounded person like me. What I enjoy most about travelling outside of the country is the friendliness of the people and the all-round positive vibe. There is no sight more pleasing to the senses than that of happy, smiling people. Save a few pockets of India, I find this most taken-for-granted sight the most uncommon here.
It seems like a frivolous issue, right? I mean, there are so many more important issues to talk about. Who cares about happiness? Well, we should care. Indians are an unhappy lot. A nationwide disease burden assessment for 2016 says that suicide features in the top three causes of premature deaths in Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Telangana. Suicides fall behind only coronary heart disease and stroke as the top killers. In 2015, Maharashtra reported the most number of suicides followed by Tamil Nadu and Chhattisgarh.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data shows that suicide is the second leading cause of death in India after accidents. Of these suicides, two out of five are of people under the age of 30. According to NCRB's 2015 data, a student kills himself every hour in India. A 2012 Lancet report states that India has the world's highest rate of suicides committed by youth between the age of 15 and 29. So utterly hopeless do we feel that the only resort seems to be to end one's life. That is the tale told by these startling numbers.
Lack of employment, pressures of education, isolation from peers; these add to the unhappiness, especially among the youth. Almost 40 per cent Indians don't go on vacations, said the 2016 Vacation Deprivation Study by an online travel company, Expedia. While the campaign to speak about depression has picked up momentum, a lot more needs to be done to address mental-health in India. According to reports, the country faces 87 per cent shortage of mental-health professionals. Few youngsters know where and how to seek help against anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. The only way to deal with life's struggles is to learn to cope with the googlies that are thrown our way. But coping, especially against the uncertainty, is not easy for gullible, impressionable minds. For a country that is deeply rooted in its spiritual past, that sense of tranquillity is not passing onto our masses. People, especially the youth, are under pressure all the time and with almost zero coping skills, the extreme way seemed the only option for 8,934 Indian students in 2015.
Happiness comes from a mind that is at peace and an inner self that is joyful. As simplistic as it sounds, the importance of happiness is recognised by some nations too. Bhutan's Gross National Happiness (GNH) measures the collective happiness of the country. India ranked a lowly 122 out of 155 countries in the World Happiness Report, 2017. China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Iraq outperformed us. Somalia at 93 and Ethiopia at 119 also fared better than India that dropped four places since the previous 2013-2015 report. Happiness was measured through GDP per capita, good amount of life expectancy, social support, trust in the government, freedom to take life's decisions, and generosity. We didn't make the cut.
Therefore, we need to talk about the importance of mental-health in today's fast-paced life. It is also more important now than ever for the Indian government to pay more heed to what the citizens want. The people of India are not happy, and are getting sadder by the day; it is time to address that.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)