n less than two months, seven Indian students in the United States have died.

Not only have they shocked the community but they have also raised questions about how they could have been prevented.

Although the deaths are unrelated, there is concern about students’ mental health, particularly among the Indian community.

The students were from different universities and their deaths ranged from suicide, an assault and an accidental overdose.

Amid these deaths, a lawmaker has called for increased mental health support.

According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, among adults with any mental illness, only 25% of Asian adults reported receiving mental health services compared to 52% of white adults in 2021.

Illinois representative Raja Krishnamoorthi said:

“Students of Indian origin are people who are high achievers and they come from families with very high expectations.

“They not only have to deal with the stress of the high expectations… but also the stress of being in a new environment.

“And I would just respectfully request our families to make it less stigmatic to seek mental health support.”

For students and parents, the wave of deaths has caused alarm.

Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate, says:

“Deaths like the ones that these students have experienced, untimely ones, very unexpected, really shake the community.”

We explore the cases and why they highlight a need for better mental health resources.

What were the Cases?

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In January 2024, 19-year-old Neel Acharya was found dead on Purdue University’s campus in Indiana.

According to officials, his death was ruled an accident due to asphyxia. Cold temperatures and alcohol intoxication were also associated with his death.

Just days later, Purdue graduate Sameer Kamath was found dead in a wooded area at a nature reserve.

It was concluded that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

In Connecticut, the bodies of Dinesh Gattu and Sai Rakoti were found in their apartment on January 15, 2024.

Both students at The Sacred Heart University, they accidentally overdosed on fentanyl.

At a Georgia petrol station, graduate Vivek Saini was bludgeoned to death by a homeless man after asking him to leave the store where he worked.

The suspect Julian Faulkner was arrested but has not entered a plea.

Eighteen-year-old Akul Dhawan, who was a student at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, was found dead on the steps of a university building after being reported missing.

He had been out with friends and was denied entry into a club.

Ten hours after his disappearance, university police found his body a few hundred feet from his last sighting.

The coroner’s office says Dhawan’s autopsy confirmed his death was due to hypothermia and acute alcohol intoxication.

Questions regarding why it took so long to find Akul have been raised.

Krishnamoorthi said the recent deaths were “deeply disturbing,” and said he spoke to Akul’s parents, who want more answers regarding the university’s search.

Aarushi Raathor, vice president of communication at UIUC’s Indian Student Association, said students on campus “feel in the dark” and want a more thorough explanation about Akul’s death and the search efforts to find him.

She added: “These incidents have definitely made me feel just very unsettled.”

Akul Dhawan’s death remains under investigation.

On February 1, Shreyas Reddy Benigeri was found dead.

The University of Cincinnati student’s death was ruled a suicide.

A spokesperson for the US Department of Education said the deaths were “heartbreaking”.

The spokesperson said: “This is every parent’s worst nightmare and our hearts go out to the families of these young men.

“The Department is committed to ensuring our colleges and universities have vital resources that allow all students to live and learn in safe, supportive and welcoming environments that are free from discrimination and hate, and include access to critical mental health supports, regardless of race or national origin.”

The Impact on International Students

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Dr Arpana Inman, who studies mental health in the South Asian community and is a dean at Rutgers University, says these deaths can have a wider impact on international students.

She said they could affect international students’ feeling of safety and may deter families from sending their children to the United States.

Dr Inman said: “Certainly I think folks will think twice about sending their child here.

“But, you know, it’s kind of a mixed bag in some ways, because there’s some prestige in US-based education.”

According to the Embassy of India, over 25% of the total population of international students studying in the US are Indian.

A 2016 review in the Journal of International Students says international students often grapple with a multitude of stressors, including language barriers, instances of discrimination and significant mental health and emotional challenges.

Dr Inman explained that the intense academic and social pressures placed on international students can lead to loneliness, substance abuse or suicidal thoughts.

She said: “I know there’s a lot of academic pressure to get good grades, go to good schools and also go within certain disciplines … and if students don’t go into those kinds of professions, then they’re seen as kind of not worth investing in.”

Aadit Bennur, the vice president of Purdue University’s Indian Student Association, said cultural pressure may deter students from seeking the help they need.

He said:

“I think there’s also a bit of taboo, around speaking up about the pressures that people are facing.”

“I think you just kind of like, shut up and keep pushing and try and get through it.”

Mr Bennur and Ms Raathor say their respective universities provide mental health resources to students. However, few use them.

Ms Raathor says: “I definitely think that in regards to the South Asian community, cultural awareness in these resources is vital.

“Especially, you know, like cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, whatever resources these college campuses are offering, have to include these factors, these aspects in order to actually be effective with such a diverse community.”

Dr Vasudev Makhija, president of the South Asian Mental Health Initiative and Network, said parents should listen to their children when they voice their struggles.

“I’ve heard many cases where these young, high school or college kids go to their parents and express their issues, and they are told ‘Oh, just drink more water’ or ‘just pray harder’ or ‘just focus on your homework, all this will go away’.”

Ms Kulkarni stated that Indian students need to prioritise their emotional and academic well-being.

“When we send our kids off to college, it’s not simply to say, OK, they’re prepared academically, and they have the financial support, so they don’t have to worry about jobs or money.

“But we also have to make sure that they have the wellbeing to engage in those studies.”

The tragic loss of Indian students in a short space of time underscores the pressing need for comprehensive improvements in mental health resources.

These incidents serve as poignant reminders of the importance of prioritising mental well-being within educational institutions and society at large.

It is imperative that we work collectively to address the unique challenges faced by students, providing them with the necessary support and resources to navigate their academic and personal journeys safely and successfully.

By investing in robust mental health services, we can create a healthier and more supportive environment for all students.