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Are Indian Colleges Equipped To Deal With Students’ Mental Health Issues?

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College students are one of the most vulnerable groups of people who could be prone to mental health issues. According to a study, around 37% college students in India are suffering from depression or some form of mental illness. India also has one of the highest student suicide rates in the world, and on an average, one student commits suicide every hour, according to the data presented by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The pressure to get into a good university, coupled with the stress to score good grades as well as parental expectations and immense competition to do well, all result in students leading stressful lives. Other issues facing students include problems in relationships, family and economic troubles, bullying and discrimination which in turn affects their performance negatively and can result in mental health issues.

Where Are Our Support Groups?

Sadly, mental health issues among students often go unnoticed by parents, teachers, friends and sometimes, by the those suffering themselves. Lack of awareness, the absence of counsellors or psychologists in universities and the stigma associated with mental illness prevent students from getting the help they need. Often, students suffering from depression or other kinds of mental health issues are faced with phrases like, “get over it”,“it’s all in your head”, or “there’s no such thing such as depression.” Many people also believe that mental illnesses are first world problems and that students suffering from such problems are privileged and spoilt who are “just wasting their parents’ money.”

A student of BMS College of Engineering in Bangalore, who prefers not to be named, recalled his experience of how he had to resort to social media forums to deal with his depression because his college had no counsellors or mental health services. He said, “College is very different from school, and often many people crumble to the pressure of academics or personal issues. Personally speaking, I had to reach out to this social media page called ‘The Artidote’ when I was facing the blues, just because there was no support system in my college. I believe that it is very crucial to address this issue because no one ever talks about it.”

Similarly, Pulkita, a student of VS Dental College in Bangalore recalled how professors ignored students who were facing mental health issues. She stated, “As students of dentistry, we deal with a lot of theoretical and patient work. I have seen many of my seniors cry because they weren’t able to cope up with the pressure. However, instead of talking to them, the professors choose to just ignore the students. While some of them seek help from outside, many of them just cry and put up with the stress.”

Majority of the colleges and universities in India are reluctant to bear the costs of hiring counsellors or providing mental health services. This stems from the fact that mental illness is a stigmatized topic and therefore, there is no discussion about it. The college administrations and faculty members are also often ignorant about it, and it is not uncommon for them to perceive students struggling with mental health issues as ‘crazy.’

What’s Next?

However, the scenario seems to be changing slowly. More and more universities are now hiring counsellors and have mentorship programmes to help students deal with stress and mental health issues. For instance, Ashoka University in Sonipat has a Centre for Well Being, where students can book appointments through an online portal and meet a counsellor. The Centre also has a helpline number on which students can call if they are feeling anxious or stressed. Ambedkar University in Delhi has a clinic named Ehsaas, which not only helps the students and staff at the University with psychological issues but also children from nearby schools suffering from behavioural problems. Similarly, premier institutions such as the IITs, SRM, Shiv Nadar University (SNU), Manipal, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and Jamia Millia Islamia have similar facilities for counselling and mentoring students as well as faculty members who may be dealing with depression, stress and related issues. Delhi University too, has a counselling facility though most colleges under it don’t have any counsellors.

A positive step undertaken by the government regarding the crisis of mental illness in India is the approval of the Mental Health Care Bill. The bill, which will be passed in July this year is progressive in many ways, such as decriminalizing suicide, granting autonomy to mentally ill patients regarding the choice of treatment, protecting the rights of patients and maintaining minimum standards of care. However, a lot more work needs to be done, since mental health is largely a taboo in India. More and more universities need to realize that mental illnesses do exist and cannot be dismissed by calling them ‘first world problems’ or students are ‘crazy’ or ‘overreacting.’ Many students are unable to afford the costs of seeking help from outside, therefore, it is important for institutes for higher education in India to counsel or mentor students and guide them on how to deal with academic and social pressure in college.

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Image used for representation only.
Image source: Satish Bate/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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