Indian student commits suicide in Australia:Who is accountable and what has to be done to prevent such incidents?

I was extremely saddened to hear the news of an Indian student who had committed suicide in Melbourne recently.

http://www.indianexpress.com/news/indian-student-commits-suicide-in-australia/519725/

Mr Gurjinder Singh was a student of La Trobe University, doing accounting. He was in Australia only for 3 months. From the newspaper reports, I read that he was depressed about not finding a job in Australia. As we know, international students are allowed to work for 20 hours a week.

He was in his early 20s.

I have been thinking about him ever since I heard about his death. I feel for him and his situations before he committed suicide. I feel for the grief and loss for his parents in India. I have been trying to analyse what went in his mind before he came to this extreme point and took his life.

What happened here? How can a person become so severely depressed within so short time after arriving in Australia? Why his flat-mates and class-mates did not know about his situation? Why nothing could be done to prevent this tragedy?

Obviously, a lot of people failed here in averting a tragedy of this nature.

As I see it, following things come to my mind;

1. his classmates failed in their responsibility by not noticing his situation and turmoil and doing something about it,

2. his flat mates failed in their responsibility by again not noticing his situation and turmoil and doing something about it,

3. his University’s support system also could not do much to prevent this tragedy [may be they did what was needed to done but we are not aware of it],

4. his close relatives could not do anything to prevent his death. A young man felt this desperate and committed suicide and close relatives did not have a clue of his situation! Was this young man pushed into coming to Australia and had lots of expectation from his relatives but he was not helped with the essential things ie money which he needed to succeed in Australia?,

5. the education agents in India who did not inform him about the situation and ground realities re the jobs and the required money for his tuition etc,

6. his University system which could not prevent such a devastating tragedy by informing him at the orientation time about the health matters/systems including the psychological health issues which he could have accessed . There are help lines available which are very useful and are known to prevent suicides.  I recognise that his University might have informed him about all this at the time of orientation but he did not use the information. He could have gone to a GP. He had access to the health system in Australia as all students are required to have a health insurance. Alas, nothing of these happened!

7. I am sorry to say this but this young man also failed himself and his parents by taking this extreme step when he could have done many things to get him out of his situation. This could have been about calling help lines, speaking with his class mates/flat mates, speaking with counsellors, speaking with his parents and even returning to India if things were not going to change. Every thing would have been preferrable to the extreme step of committing suicide. A degree from a Uni in Australia and a possible PR in Australia are nothing when we compare them with the “Life”. By saying this, I am not minimising the grief/sadness which his near and dears ones are going through right now. I have a great deal of empathy with every one who is going through this grief but…….

 Life is always full of challenges and we need to face the challenges rather than taking the self-harm steps. Most times, we can deal with them ourselves but some times, we would need help from others and we must seek it from them.

Parents and students must be aware of the possibility that a job may not be available in Australia. Arrangements for ongoing living expenses and tuition fees must be made before travelling to Australia. Aus Gov authorities in the relevant Embassy/High Commission must make it amply clear that students can work for upto 20hours/week but jobs in Australia can not be the main or the only source of funding the expenses during their stay in Australia.

To be honest with you, I believe that students should not come to Australia if they do not have a capability to arrange funding for their fees and living expenses without a job in Australia.

Depression is a common problem and people from all age groups, ethnicity and circumstances can suffer from depression. Indians are no exception. It is eminently treatable. No body needs to suffer without the help, support and treatment for it. We of course need to let others know what is going on inside us. Many a times, others would not know about the turmoil inside if we do not seek help, talk about it or let them know what is going on inside us. 

 Unfortunately, there is a stigma attached to the mental health issues and anecdotally, this may be more true in the Indian community.

In this regard, I admire the courage which was shown by Jeff Kennett [former Vic Premier], Andrew Robb [Liberal Front Bencher] and Geoff Gallop [ former premier of Western Australia] when they came out with their depression and sought help.

To prevent any loss of life in this manner, we all must show compassion and look after our friends, class mates, flat mates, relatives or any one whom we know if we find that they are having difficulties in these matters. We need to talk with our close ones and share with them the difficulties we are experiencing.

It does not help and it is not correct if we point a finger of blame, to the premier of Victoria, Mr John Brumby by making him responsible for this suicide as has been done by a non-student “leader” in Melbourne. This is ridiculous. This “leader” is talking nonsense and is playing useless politics. He should be ashamed of himself.

A very sad situation has happened and we all including the Gov agencies need to think about the preventive measures which must be in place to avert such deaths, knowing that International students are under lots of pressure, do not have the traditional support mechanism for them in Australia and some of them may not be able to cope with the circumstances. Schools, TAFE and Universities must review their orientation systems to make sure there is information on health including mental health issues in their orientation programmes.

The education providers must have a system of “student co-ordinators” who should have a close interaction with the students. Pastoral care is a service which is extremely essential in relation to International students.

 State Governments must ensure that the education providers in their territories do have enough information on these matters in these programmes and have adequate pastoral care mechanism.

Indian associations must review what they can do to help Indian students when they are having difficulties in dealing with the situations/circumstances in Australia.

There is a significant role for the media in India and in Australia to take up the issue of mental health among International students. Many of them go through a very difficult environment. As Indian students do access the ethnic Indian media in Australia regularly, it can and should do a significant job by making people aware of the mental health and help system available in Australia. Kumud Merani [SBS Radio], Pawan Luthra [Indian Link], Rohit Revo [The Indian] and Dinesh Malhotra [Bharat Times] have the instrument which can be very effective in this regard. After all, we do have the great systems like LIFE LINE and BEYOND BLUE in Australia but this may not be known to our students.

We all have to work together to save lives of those who are going through a difficult time in their lives!

We all need to work together in all sorts of manners to help our students!

Dr Yadu Singh/Sydney/23rd Sept, 2009.

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