“I stopped before I could click the submit button, thinking whether the professor would laugh at my reasons for not writing my exams. With already two months since the lockdown, an exam was not something I was prepared for. Especially when I was all by myself, away from parents with no socialising; a catharsis to the mental illness I had been living with since over a year. The lockdown has proved to be excruciating for everyone in their own ways, but for me, and a million others, it is beyond that.
There were days when I felt enraged, sometimes numb, sometimes at peace, and most times crying when thoughts of anxiety would cripple me and I’d wish for things to become better. I did not want to create an issue to get away from exams like most did. But here I was, with my handset in my hand, and in a dilemma, whether to do or not.
I was helpless. I wanted to pour out my feelings and be understood about what it means to live with a mental illness in such a situation. I wanted my words to be heard, loud and clear. And for someone too feel the pain behind my reasons. Stuck in an existential crisis, anything more would only aggravate my already poor health. Would it be better to be amongst the crowd, and ignore my own pain, or stand out of the crowd and just say it? I wondered.
This is what thousands of students are facing today in different parts of the country. Some speak up only to be silenced, while some decide to live with it and bear it all silently.
Education in India is revered. Parents do so much to raise their kids — set high expectations, sometimes unrealistic, and at other times, support their children in whatever they wish to pursue. They even take loans to fulfil their children’s dream to study, but is education in India student-friendly? At least not when it comes to acknowledging the possible mindset of countless students during such a time, where lakhs of them are not living with the same mental state.
The WHO has already predicted an upsurge in the number of mental health cases. Yet, we continue to turn a blind eye towards this. We don’t even consider the fact that most mental health issues during the lockdown are arising due to restricted access to socialising, financial implications of the pandemic, or familial issues that are on the rise during such times.
The trend of online lectures, asking for submissions, and conducting exams in a conventional manner only point to one thing — education was never considered a tool for growth and development, but a method of getting stamped certificates and degrees. Only if students face issues such as unavailability of resources like electronic devices or interrupted electricity, our schools and colleges would take cognisance, but will a reason like, “I am not in my mental state to study” be heard and accepted?
Not just students, even teachers are not spared during such times. Most schools are asking teachers to involve students as young as kindergarteners, to keep them “involved” by coming up with innovative strategies, overburdening both teachers and parents to keep up with the classwork without any real learning. Teachers too have their families and children to take care of, and parents are entangled in the web of the crisis. Engagement is essential, but not at the cost of mental health.
Mental health does not find itself as priority in the education sector. Schools and colleges may have counsellors in place, but are we encouraging our students to speak up? And even if they do, are they being heard and not laughed at? As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness week from today, it is time to keep a check on how our systems are dealing with students and teachers during a global crisis.
Are we devising strategies just for the sake of completing the syllabus? Are we not ensuring whether the child is in a capacity to learn and appear for exams, or if education is about learning first?
These are tumultuous times and the systems have to deal through this with kindness — the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. In times of a global crisis, schools and colleges are supposed to make it easier, not just through online lectures, but by letting students choose their pace and providing relaxations, and not by ignoring the mental health of students of various age groups. Mental health is more important than physical well-being — the brain is the healing source of all other organs of the body. But despite these facts, the importance of mental health is never understood.
Celebrities and professionals coming out and vouching for mental health is not enough. It has to be understood and acknowledged by all, and this will happen only if the systems of our country structure policies that make mental well-being a priority. Making it easier for those affected would enable them to make the best use of their potential to bring laurels for themselves and the country.