IITians pushed to the edge — (Times of India)

SSRI Ed note: Bright, successful engineering student prescribed antidepressants, hangs himself 2 months later.

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Times of India

D Suresh kumar | TNN

Oct 17, 2008, 03:57

CHENNAI: On Tuesday morning, friends of Sankar Perumal, a first year MTech (Mechanical Engineering) student at the Indian Institute of Technology (I IT Madras), saw him buy a rope. They assumed that he bought the rope to use it as a clothsline in his room at the Krishna hostel block on the campus as the rains had set in.

But that night when Sankar Perumal did not turn up at the dining table, it turned out that his friends’ assumptions were too naive for a person who suffered from frequent bouts of depression. Perumal’s friends found him hanging from the ceiling of his room using the very same rope on Tuesday night.

Just a few days back, last Sunday to be precise, the MTech student had dined out with his friends. It had been a while since Sankar had returned to his hostel. After being diagnosed with chronic depression two months back, the MTech student had been going to the institute from his home in Mogappair. “In fact, he returned to the college hostel just 10 days back. He told us that he wanted to be on campus for the tech-festival, ‘Shastra’,” said one of Sankar’s sisters.

But on Tuesday, this 24-year-old, described by his family as extremely bright and with a passion for whipping up exotic dishes, decided to end his life. His batchmates, fellow hostelites and the faculty at the premier institute suspect that mental depression had prompted him to take the extreme step. Sankar had in fact been receiving both medication and counselling.

“He had completed his BTech from the well-known PSG College of Technology in Coimbatore and joined the Tata Consultancy Services where he worked for two years. On August 4, he took a study leave from the company and enrolled for the master’s programme at the IIT Madras as a TCS-sponsored candidate. There was no need for him to feel the academic pressure because he already had a secure job,” said a professor.

According to relatives, the boy was fraught with worry owing to the very position he held in the company. Despite being a star performer at work, he was afraid that the company would withdraw its sponsorship if he didn’t perform to its expectations.

A family member also said that Sankar was not sure if he should continue with his studies. “He was ambivalent on whether to complete his higher education or go back to work and had an argument with his parents over the weekend,” said a classmate of Sankar.

His friends at the hostel recall that Sankar was an introvert. “He had gone home last week and returned glum-faced on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, he never shared anything with us. We have a very liberal environment here and the students have facilities for recreation. But the students are more self-centred and are always hooked on to the internet or library and have no time to share personal thoughts,” remarked a professor.

Speaking to The Times Of India, Sankar’s brother-in-law Madan Mohan said, “There is a need for premier institutes to infuse stress-management courses into their curriculum. Students need to be taught how to cope with high- stress environment.”

“Also, referring to psychiatrists and counsellors as ‘stress-management gurus’ would help reduce the stigma involved in visiting them,” said Mr Perumal, Sankar’s father.

Last year too a couple of suicides were reported on the campus, but the victims had ended their lives due to personal reasons than peer pressure, a faculty member said.