India stands third in the number of higher education institutions in a country, but only a handful of institutions from them provide a facility for wellness centres and counsellors.
India has one of the highest suicide rates in the age group 15 to 29. This shows the lack of importance given to mental wellness in India, which is mostly the main reason for suicide. The Indian education system focuses on rote learning and memorisation, which requires study for long hours and lesser time for recreational and relaxing activities.
Soon, the students who are unable to cope up with this system start to get distressed which further turns into depression and finally provoking students to take the extreme step of suicide.
Parents’ support is a significant factor as far as students falling into depression is concerned. As in India, a student’s self-worth is reflected by grades and marks that students forget to learn and try ways to get good grades. As a result, students don’t focus on learning and its practical use but focus on getting good marks by hook or crook. Parents’ expectation and their pressure on children to perform well further stresses the student. On the other hand, students who have congenial parents or a good relationship with them are often found to be less stressed than other students.
As most of the students in India step out of their home for the first time to study in higher education institutions, they experience a strange environment, out of their comfort zones. Students often come with high expectations such as “It will be the best time of my life,” and ” I am free to take my own decisions.” As a result, they are overwhelmed with new challenges they face in colleges. Academics often demands more than school, but also comes with no family guidance, new roommates, new friends, no cap on what to eat and when to sleep, etc.
Students who are not able to cope up face anxiety and stress which may further escalate to depression. If students don’t have friends or if they don’t share such feelings, it affects their mental health up to a great extent. Another reason for not opening up is the taboo in Indian society around mental health problems.
According to a study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 37.7%, 13.1%, and 2.4% of the students were suffering from moderate, severe, and extremely severe depression respectively, in Indian universities. These are some huge numbers and need immediate attention.
Most of the time, severity can be avoided if the issue is treated in time, which raises the question of why universities don’t have specialised centres. Mental illness doesn’t just affect a particular individual, but also their family. Also, these are people who, in the future, are going to contribute to social welfare significantly.
According to this study, students in Semester II are more stressed than Semester III. It clearly shows that students new to university feel more stressed due to academic pressure, which they have not been able to cope up with. As you move to Semester III, you are more familiar with the process, and stress decreases generally.
Students with low CGPAs are more stressed than other students. Students from lower socio-economic backgrounds also feel more pressure due to financial strains. An important thing to note here is that student perception also matters. If students think well of their university/college, academics, living conditions, etc. they are bound to feel less stress and anxiety compared to students who do not harbour similar feelings towards their college.
Indian universities and colleges can implement a few measures mentioned below to provide mental health support.
The first measure every college should take is to create awareness about mental health problems and remove the stigma around it, so that students who need help try to seek it without any hesitation.
Additional measures would be conducting workshops, especially for first-year students on issues like stress management, time allocation, spirituality, the meaning of life, and the need to de-stress regularly, etc. so that students can think of things other than academics.
Universities should try to set up individual counselling centres on the campus by hiring psychiatrists and providing treatment to students who require it.
Another thing which universities should take utmost care of is to maintain the anonymity of students who access these services. some students often do not wish to reveal their identity. The student council in college should also address common issues like financial help, scholarships, ragging, body shaming, etc. which can act as a support to the student.
Faculties and support staff should also be given the training to be empathetic to students dealing with mental health issues.
About the author: Divyam Tantia is an MBA candidate at the Department of Management Studies, IIT Delhi and penned this down intrigued by the recent spike in student suicides across the country.