'Board Exam Result Didn't Define My Life': Hear Out This Suicide Survivor

"In retrospect, I know I didn't want to die. I wanted to have another way out."

5 min read

Trigger warning: Discussions of self-harm, suicidal thoughts and actions.

(If you feel suicidal or know someone in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs.)

"I remember being extremely scared. One day before the exam I felt so unprepared and overwhelmed. I kept going to the bathroom and crying and then pull myself together and come out and pretend like I had it under control."

Shreya (name changed to protect identity) attempted to take her own life a day before her CBSE Class 12th Board Exam.

Fortunately, she survived.

"Since then I have turned my life around. Now I feel like it was really not worth all the stress I experienced over it. But it made me grow and learn."
Shreya, 24 (Name changed)

In an earlier report, when FIT spoke to suicide survivors coping during the pandemic, they all spoke of being grateful for the life they were able to live out.

In a similar vein, Shreya shares her story of surviving self-harm and the life she's built for herself since then.


'Board Exams Meant Everything'

"My physics and chemistry exams had not gone well, and before my maths exam, I remember feeling extremely scared and trapped," says Shreya.

She says she hadn't been a bad student. "Till class 10 I did well. I wasn't a topper, but I scored well."

Things however took a turn, she says, when she enrolled herself into the science stream in Class 11.

"It got very tough then suddenly. I found it hard to keep up," she says.

"I didn't really want to pursue science to be honest. I took it because everyone who did well in 10th boards took science, and if you chose commerce, (or worse) humanities, and you had good marks, teachers would council you to take science and tell you you're making and mistake and you’re closing doors for yourself."
Shreya, 24 (name changed)

According to the latest National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data, over 13,000 students died by suicide in 2021. That's more than 35 students dying by suicide every day.

What's even more harrowing is that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), for every person who dies by suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts that don't succeed. And likely many many more who contemplate it but don't act upon it.


'Kids Are More Vulnerable At This Age': Experts Speak

Speaking of self-harm among students linked to board exams, Dr Naznin Chimthanawala, a clinical psychologist who has worked as a school counselor in the past says, "Peer pressure, parental pressure, and teacher pressure all together work negatively, and some kids are unable to cope."

Psychiatrist Dr Ruksheda Syeda adds to this saying,

"Everyone’s primed to think these are the most crucial make-or-break events in your life and people often talk and ask and pry under the guise of 'we car', and 'we love you that’s why we’re asking'."

"I was always an insecure child. I cared a lot about what people thought of me and how I performed," explains Shreya.

"I think the fact that I was a good student up till that point and liked by all teachers, and they had expectations from me is what made the pressure worse. I felt like I would be extremely humiliated if I failed," she adds.

Dr Syeda also explains that both 10th and 12th board exams coincide with a time in a child's life when they are going through a neuro-developmental period.

"A lot is happening in the brain and the body where everything is intensified. So everything feels the most important, emotions are heightened. When such major life events occur at this time, that does make one person more vulnerable to mood disorders, suicidality, self-harm."
Dr Ruksheda Syeda, Psychiatrist

'There Is Life After Failure Too'

"We are told that 12th boards are the ultimate test and our college admissions and entire career path depends on it, and not everyone can work well under such pressure," says Shreya, adding, "and it's also not true."

Shreya says she was allowed to take a make-up exam a few months later, and even though she didn't score exceptionally well, her results weren't as bad as she had thought it would be. Furthermore, they didn't dictate the success of her career in the future either.

"I changed my stream after 12th. I went to a college that wasn't top ranking but it had opportunities for extracurricular activities. I also did some internships in college and after graduating that helped me figure out what I really wanted to do."

Shreya now works as a product stylist for a fashion brand. “I love my job and I see myself building a career in fashion. But in 10th, I didn't even know something like this exists."

She says her board exam results feel irrelevant now.

"After a certain point, no one, not even recruiters, care about how much you scored in your 10th and 12th. Your work and your portfolio speak for itself."

Sometimes its hard to put your situation into perspective when you're living through it. In retrospect, Dr Chimthanawala says, some of her students who fought through suicidal thoughts because of exams back in school also express gratitude now.

She says, "they tell me now, 'thank God you talked to us at that time and we didn't do anything stupid. Because today we are doing well for ourselves and the tenth board exam doesn't feel like such a big deal.'"

"They say, 'there’s so much in life that we have achieved, and the stress of the board exam was totally invalidated.'"
Dr Naznin Chimthanawala, Clinical Psychologist, Former School Councellor

'The Support I Wish I Had'

"Suicide is a cry for help, but many a times kids actually want to be talked out of it. They don't want to die. They just want someone to listen to them and take them out of it, and for the pressure to be taken off and given another option to choose."
Dr Naznin Chimthanawala, Clinical Psychologist, Former School Councellor

"In retrospect, I know I didn't want to die. I just wanted to have a way out of the fear, and having to face the exam and its consequences. I think I just wanted my parents to sympathise with me and take away the pressure, and tell me there was another way," says Shreya.

Dr Ruksheda says its important to make kids feel supported. "It doesn't always help to say 'board exams don't matter', or 'it's okay if you do badly', because they want to do well and you're invalidating them by saying it doesn't matter.

"Instead it would help more to acknowledge their fears and sit with them to come up with a plan to prepare them to face the exam better," she says.

Dr Chimthanawala adds, "The goal should be to do your best. Beyond that We have to reinforce that there is always a choice, and there are always alternative paths and options to pursue if one thing doesn't work out."

Dr Syeda also adds that suicidal thoughts and fears can also continue to future exams and life challenges which is why it's important to work on their response to stress, anxiety, and other issues with therapy if needed.

"I still feel stressed and anxious. My job is also fast pased. But I have been going to therapy since college. I think now I have the tools to deal with such stressful situations that I didnt have at 17," says Shreya.

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