New Delhi: Over the last two months, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the national capital has seen six suicides, including that of three doctors.
The latest case came to light Friday when the decomposed body of Dr Mohit Singhla, a 40-year-old research officer of paediatrics, was retrieved by the police from his Gautam Nagar home after neighbours complained of foul smell.
The prestigious medical institute has dealt with student suicides on a regular basis over the years, but the recent spate of deaths — between 5 June and 14 August — amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic has sounded the alarm among students and faculty.
Earlier this week, the institute’s faculty association wrote to AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, saying there was a “need to collectively think and work to provide an enabling environment for the students to prosper”.
“We have appealed to the administration asking them to make this their top priority,” Dr Rakesh Yadav, president of the association, told ThePrint. “Suicide is a multi-factoral problem, and it’s difficult to say what’s causing this string of suicides. It’s an indication that we’ve failed somewhere.”
Since June, three patients admitted to AIIMS — including journalist Tarun Sisodia — also died by suicide on the premises, for unknown reasons.
Spate of suicides
Mohit Singhla was a 1998 AIIMS topper who took on the job of a research officer in the paediatrics department. His interests were in tuberculosis and HIV.
In his alleged suicide note, he wrote, “What will I do living till I am 60-70 years old,” adding that he was taking his life out of choice as he “cannot hide his mental state any longer”.
The Delhi Police is verifying the authenticity of the note.
“He was a very nice man. Most people in AIIMS are too busy to help out, but if you ever needed help with a research project he would volunteer to help,” a junior resident from the paediatrics department, who didn’t wish to be named, told ThePrint. “It’s terribly sad. He didn’t let on that he had a mental health problem.”
Singhla’s death follows that of a 22-year-old student, Vikas G., who allegedly jumped off a roof on 10 August. Vikas had been admitted to the psychiatry ward earlier and was under treatment for a mental health issue.
Earlier, a resident doctor, Anurag Kumar, died by suicide. He was also receiving treatment at the psychiatry department.
“They were both being strictly monitored. Despite that, they managed to take the step. It means we didn’t do enough, and we need to work to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We don’t know what’s causing this sudden spurt — it’s difficult to say,” Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors Association, told ThePrint.
On 19 April, a female Dalit resident doctor of dentistry attempted suicide allegedly because she faced caste-based discrimination at the hands of a senior doctor.
Kumar had written a blog post about his battles with depression before he jumped to his death on 10 July — exactly a month before Vikas G., who was also from a Dalit community, ended his life.
Issues at AIIMS
ThePrint spoke to a number of doctors at the institute, and all of them said the pressure to perform can be immense.
“It can be a lot of pressure because everyone who comes is a bright student. There is continuous academic pressure when you join AIIMS, so it is easy to be overwhelmed. This can be compounded by their mental illness, if they have any,” said Singh.
A senior resident at psychiatry department, who didn’t wish to be named, said the pressure was even more if students are from minority backgrounds, or if they are not from Delhi.
“There have been many complaints about caste-based discrimination, use of language, and even nepotism, but nothing meaningful has come out of it. People who come from outside have a particularly difficult time adjusting to this environment,” he said.
“These issues need to be systematically addressed. Issuing a statement is not enough,” he added.
In view of the pandemic, the institute has set up a mental health helpline for its doctors.