For many, the spiral stairway in Kharazmi Building at AL Zahra University in Tehran, an emergency exit for the building, is a reminder of death. On December 8, a woman threw herself off the eighth floor of the building, and traces of her blood can still be seen where she hit the ground. She was 34 and held a Master’s Degree in Islamic Philosophy and Theology.
“Today, December 8, 2018, a young woman committed suicide at the university,” reported the female-only prestigious state institute for further education. “The deceased was a graduate of Islamic Philosophy and Theology and finished [studying and paying fees] at the university in 2013. Since then she has had no connections with the university.”
If that is correct, it would appear that she had gone to the university only to commit suicide. “I did not witness the suicide,” one Al Zahra student told IranWire. “When I got there it was all over and the area was cordoned off. But they said anybody who had been there and had seen the scene was so shocked that she ended up in the clinic.”
Mohammad Shahriari, superintendent of the Criminal Court, said that the investigation into the motives for the suicide were ongoing. He announced that anti-depressants had been found in the deceased’s handbag, but it was not clear whether she had been taking them or not.
According to the student I talked to, the deceased had no problems with the university. “We must ask her family to explain to find out what her motives were,” she said.
No Time Left for a Paying Job
Because of the heavy workload Ph.D students take on, and because of the demands of their theses, Ph.D. students are unable to pursue paid jobs. And many of them do not have enough money to complete their dissertations.
The woman’s suicide is not the first of its kind. In late 2017, a law student at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University threw himself off the third floor of the Law School. A note found in his pocket said only that he was committing suicide for personal reasons. And the 2016 suicide of Hossein Khojasteh-Nia, a Ph.D. student in international relations at Tehran University, attracted a lot of attention. He ended his life by taking cyanide in front of the office of the dean of the School of Law and Social Sciences. At the time, many of his classmates blamed poverty, financial difficulties and the neglect of the faculty toward the students.
In April 2008, Shahrooz Keshavarz, a Ph.D. student of chemistry at Shahid Beheshti University, also committed suicide by taking cyanide. Like Khojasteh-Nia, he also had financial problems. When he talked about his inability to complete his dissertation because of his finances, one of the professors humiliated and ridiculed him. This led to a verbal quarrel between the two, after which Keshavarz quickly used the chemicals at his disposal and ended his own life. According to the Amir Kabir student newsletter, after his family filed a complaint with the court and his classmates declared their readiness to testify, the university’s security department contacted the students and tried to silence them by threatening them with trumped-up charges and expulsion.
“These kids work hard and study hard,” a professor at Shahid Beheshti University told IranWire, “but when they find out that after all these years of study they must still ask their families for pocket money they fall into depression and commit such acts.” The professor believes that lack of support for post-graduate and Ph.D. students is an important reason behind depression and despondency among them. “Ph.D. students cannot work,” he says. “The amount of writing the dissertation requires is so heavy that they have no time left to work. Many do not have enough money to finish their dissertations. I knew a student who had to get his cab fare from his family and always felt ashamed. These things lead to depression and desperation.”
Science Ministry Officials Know
According to him, officials at the science ministry are quite aware that suicide is a major problem among university students. “They must find a way to support the students, especially post-graduate and Ph.D. students, to prevent depression from getting hold of them. But they do nothing and believe that the problem will take care of itself.”
Early this year, Dr. Abolhasan Riazi, the Ministry for Science, Research and Technology’s deputy for Students Affairs, called suicide the most important issue for university students. “When I first started [in this job] suicide was the top challenge and issue among the officials and it remains so even today,” he said at a gathering of the heads of university counseling centers. He added that hopelessness among students studying at higher levels is increasing. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the general conditions in the country are such that effective processes for securing the mental health of the students have fallen apart. We must facilitate communication between the students and the counseling centers to prevent problems such as depression and suicide at universities.”
“Depression among university students is on the rise,” said Mansoureh Sadeghi, Director General for Students Counseling and Health at the ministry of science. “Some ask why they are studying and others become victims of depression and desperation because they cannot find employment.”
But Sadeghi added that emotional problems also play very an important role in student suicides. “Forty percent of university students are suffering from emotional problems with the opposite sex,” she said. “Between 25 and 30 percent of these students attempt suicide after an emotional defeat.” She reported that jumping from heights is the predominant form of suicide among students — the way the graduate from Al Zahra University chose to end her life.
“In these past two days we have talked a lot about why she came to the campus to kill herself,” said one of the Al Zahra students. “Some say that she wanted to send a message of protest because she did it a day after Student Day [December 7 in Iran] and on the campus. I think she saw the university as the cause of her misfortune. Otherwise, why did she come to the university? Perhaps she had a bad memory from Kharazmi Building or perhaps she had a broken heart. In any case, I think her desperation had something to do with the university.”
Teen Suicide on the Rise in Iran, September 19, 2018
The Alarming Phenomenon of Teenage Suicide in Iran, March 19, 2018
Why are Iranian Teens Choosing Suicide?, June 12, 2016
Student Suicide on the Rise, May 21, 2015