x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 September 2017

Mother of teenager who hanged himself urges others to pay heed to children’s well-being

By agreeing to talk about her son, who killed himself over exam stress, Ambika Sadasivan hopes to convince troubled children to reach out for help and realise the devastation suicide leaves behind.

Abhimanyu Sadasivan with his younger brother Ekalavyan, mother Ambika and father Sadasivan Ambalamedu. The 16-year-old killed himself in 2014 over exams pressure. Courtesy Sadasivan family
Abhimanyu Sadasivan with his younger brother Ekalavyan, mother Ambika and father Sadasivan Ambalamedu. The 16-year-old killed himself in 2014 over exams pressure. Courtesy Sadasivan family

SHARJAH // The mother of an Indian teenager who committed suicide two years ago has pleaded with parents to persevere in ensuring their children are coping with pressure.

Ambika Sadasivan said that every time she asked, her son -Abhimanyu, 16, said he was fine.

“He was very talkative and then, all of a sudden, he was withdrawn,” Ms Sadasivan said. “When I talked to friends and colleagues, I also felt it was part of growing up.

“He was a jovial child but we did not notice he was hiding something in his mind, although we were very close. I want to tell parents we should inquire more and not trust 100 per cent that our children are happy.

“It is still really, really painful but I’m concerned about other children in the UAE who have problems, who may think it is easy to end their lives, end the mental agony.

“I’m sure if Abhimanyu knew how much his father, brother and I are still suffering, he would not have done this because he loved us so much.”

Abhimanyu lived in a normal family that would gather every Thursday night to watch happy movies, because he did not like sad films. A voracious reader like his parents, Abhimanyu -enjoyed authors from Dan Brown to Chetan Bhagat.

On March 2, 2014, life changed forever when Ms Sadasivan and her husband, Sadasivan Ambalamedu, were called in to Indian High School in Dubai hours after Abhimanyu did not show up for a maths exam.

They were told about seven pages he had written on an exam paper five days earlier about the pressures of the Indian Central Board of Secondary Education system. The police traced Abhimanyu’s mobile phone to their Sharjah home, where his body was found hanged.

His parents have seen a copy of the note in which he said he loved them, but the school had not yet given them a copy despite their requests.

Ms Sadasivan has not visited India since her son’s death. It will take time to push aside the crushing shadow of despair.

“I still think, why has this happened to me, to my child? I do not have the mental capacity, the courage to go back to India without Abhimanyu,” she said.

“I’m in a state now where nothing can make me more unhappy than this and nothing can make me happy in my life ever again.”

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Child protection

Schools tasked with flagging depressed pupils to authorities and parents

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“I’m only asking for my son’s last note,” Ms Sadasivan said. “I don’t want to create problems, I just want to keep his last words.”

The school did not respond to requests for comment.

She and her younger son, Ekalavya, 16, attend spiritual classes to deal with his death. Her husband has turned to painting and will use sale proceeds for the charity, AbhiRox, set up in -Abhimanyu’s memory to keep poor children in school.

About 15 poor children in India’s Kerala state stayed in school last year because of the family’s donation. Abhimanyu’s father heads to India next month to finalise their schooling for the next academic year.

Trying to fathom what drove a child to suicide can torment a family, said Dr Yaseen Aslam, a psychiatrist at Lighthouse Arabia.

“Suicide has a catastrophic impact on the family, particularly if it’s a young child,” Dr Aslam said. “The biggest concern any parent will have is whether they should have intervened earlier.

“It’s natural to do this psychological dissection and even blame themselves – it’s part of the bereavement process. But it’s a tragic fact of life that not all suicides can be prevented.”

A new child rights law, enforced this month, instructs schools to look out for troubled pupils and has a long-term focus on removing the stigma from depression and mental health issues.

If suicidal tendencies are noticed in young people or a suicide note is discovered, school staff must immediately alert the authorities and parents.

“It would be a lot different with the new law because it would have been the duty of the school– teacher to raise the alarm with the headmaster,” said Khaled Al Kamda, director general of the Community Development Authority, which oversees the protection of children’s rights.

“By law, they would have to report that the child needs help. Not acting on the message is something the law takes seriously. It comes to the point of negligence.

“It was the responsibility of the headmaster and teacher to talk to the parents and have a session with the student immediately. They should have taken measures to read the message properly and act on it.”

Training teachers is vital, said Lisa Barfoot-Smith, mother of Louis Smith, 15, a pupil at the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi who took his life in 2013. His parents set up the Louis Smith Foundation to support teenagers struggling with depression.

Ms Sadasivan has not visited India since her son’s death. It will take time to push aside the crushing shadow of despair.

“I still think, why has this happened to me, to my child? I do not have the mental capacity, the courage to go back to India without Abhimanyu,” she said.

“I’m in a state now where nothing can make me more unhappy than this and nothing can make me happy in my life ever again.”

rtalwar@thenational.ae