Mental Health and College Students

Articles Guest Contributors Mental Health Reporter's Diary Voices

By Shruti Venkatesh

It is an unfortunate fact that India ranks as one of the countries with highest student suicide rates in the world. At least one student commits suicide every hour according to reports provided by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Mental health in general is a neglected concept, let alone the mental health of college students. The NCRB in 2015 presented data which reflected 8,934 cases of student suicide. In the five years leading to that, 39,775 students had committed suicide in India. (It’s important to remember that there are multi-factoral reasons and also that help is available. If you or anyone you know needs help, do reach out)

Pressure kicks off even before the college experience, when there is peak effort to secure seats in prestigious universities. The pressure itself can have deadly ramifications. As many students will attest, there is the pressure of marks and grades, which is backed with extremely high expectations from parents and teachers. In the midst of this, students also face peer pressures to maintain a good social life, bullying on campus, and any number of traumatic experiences which they are not always able to articulate or express, all of which in turn their overall mental health and well-being.

ALSO READ: ASK THE EXPERTS: BULLYING AND SCHOOL KIDS

According to a study published in Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 37.7%, 13.1%, and 2.4% of the students were suffering from moderate, severe, and extremely severe depression in Indian Universities. The study also said that, a significant difference was found across semester, that is, semester II students reported a higher level of depression than semester III students. The findings of the study emphasized the need for immediate mental health support services for about 15.6% of the students who were either suffering from severe or extremely severe depression at the University.

Are campuses in India equipped to handle mental health from a preventive point of view? While there are notable exceptions (see below), there often seems to be a lack of awareness, coupled with low funds, and minimal trained resident mental health professionals. Many colleges do not have psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors or social workers available on campus who can help students in need. Hence, students who are struggling are not able to openly talk about their issues.

ALSO SEE: SUICIDE PREVENTION HELPLINES

But let’s unpack a major cause of stress — moving away from home for undergraduate or postgraduate studies can cause separation anxiety. This transition is a very important phase in a student’s life, and people can feel vulnerable, alone, isolated, especially if they’re unable to make friends quickly. Every administration should be properly equipped to deal with such situations because family members, parents and siblings are not as accessible as before.

There are also multiple pressures — from social media and pop culture influences leading to potential body image and self-esteem issues, to the very real worry and concern or insecurity about the future. At this critical juncture, it’s important that there is a safe, non-judgemental space open for conversation, dialogue, and therapy, as and when required.

It is possible that universities hesitate to invest in creating a mental health system on campus because mental health is already a stigmatised field; and cost could also be a factor.  But as a result, where advice is given, it’s often very generalised. And yet there’s no doubt that well being of the students should be of utmost importance to any college or university, with mental health facilities included in any college healthcare programs.

The good news is that nowadays in India, many premium colleges do have a better mental health care setting with in-built counselling centers and mentorship programs — For example, the IITs, Ashoka University, Ambedkar University, JNU, SNU, DU etc are doing well on this front, but it seems that many other institutions still lack these facilities. And let’s not forget that students are often unable to afford external mental health help, given the cost factor.

ALSO READ: LESSONS FROM A STUDENT SUPPORT CENTRE

There is a need for much more to be done, and on a war footing. Peers and teachers must be sensitized to deal with mental health problems of students better to compensate for poor mental health services. There are very important issues like substance abuse, bullying and cyber crime that need to be dealt with and a basic knowledge of mental health can make a big difference. These issues should not be treated in isolation as college students go through various phases in these formative years.  

 

Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash

 

The Health Collective reached out to counsellors, students, students who had dropped out of college, and alumni to share their perspective. Edited excerpts from our interviews:

Alifiya Kagalwala, Sophia (Polytechnic) College Counsellor

1. What are the most common stressors among college students?
As a college counsellor, I feel that the common stressors affecting students would be peer relationships, future job prospects and their emotional make up.

2. Do you believe colleges in India are well equipped to handle the mental health of its students?
Colleges need to provide students with better and upgraded facilities in courses to help enhance the confidence of students, and also realise that counsellors are needed to help ease their problems.

3. Why is the mental health of Indian college students particularly in a bad shape?
They are not heard or listened to in their formative years thus the unsolved problems are carried on as extra baggage whose effects are seen in their early adult years.

4. How can colleges ensure that help is available and its students do not succumb to stress?
Good rapport between college students and lecturers is needed. Assumptions made by lecturers makes them judgmental about students. Counsellors should be considered and taken into confidence before any action is taken. 

5. As a college counsellor, what would your advice be to young students to maintain a positive mental health? 

  1. Students should try to solve their problems by talking to their elders or friends. Please don’t carry emotional baggage to the extent that it bogs you down and influences your perspective and cognitive processes
  2. Learn to be positive and believe that there is always a solution to every problem.
  3. Most importantly you not alone.
  4. There are mental health professionals who help ease problems and they are there to even listen if needed.
  5. Change your outlook towards life and learn to be happy.

ALSO READ: IS THERAPY MEANT FOR EVERYONE?

Pratibha Jain, Jai Hind College Counsellor

1. What are the most common stressors among college students?
First, the social pressure to secure a place in the so called ” best colleges” ; with limited seats this creates a problem; once admitted, (they) have to keep up with social life, which may stretch the budget and financials of the student. Dressing and socialising become very important to making friends. Students become so busy with this that grades go down…This has its own downside and creates a lot of anxiety. Balancing all parts of life with minimal supervision or support from within the college creates stress. Students from the closely monitored school environment are often unprepared for the wise and balanced decision making that college requires .

2. Do you believe colleges in India are well equipped to handle the mental health of its students?
Most colleges in India do not have the concept of providing pastoral care ie emotional support or guidance to students. Counseling is largely limited to solving academic problems.

3. Why is the mental health of Indian college students particularly in a bad shape?
School life is dominated by a strongly controlled environment and focus on academics. Sudden liberty from constraints, open friendships and falsehoods created by social media create unrealistic expectations affecting mental health. Students do not understand how to handle relationships and get carried away easily by false news about each other. Alcoholism, cyberbullying and trolling are increasingly impacting student’s mental condition…

4. How can colleges ensure that help is available and its students do not succumb to stress?
More awareness about the reality of social media; and access to help to discuss emotional relationships.

5. As a college counsellor, what would your advice be to young students to maintain a positive mental health?
More communication with some wise adults who can help students to achieve a balance; and less reactive measures; some forums like Art of Living, or any platforms to discuss issues or concerns in a non-threatening, non-judgmental atmosphere with peers and trusted adults.

ALSO READ: SELF CARE IN THIS JOURNEY CALLED LIFE

Rishika Menon, Former student at Christ College, Bangalore

1. What made you drop out of college?
I had too many issues with my peers. My subjects were very intense altogether and there was a lot to do for every subject that I had.

2. What were the major stressors you experienced in college?
Two things stressed me the most, how much my mother expected from me and how much longer I could keep going to college despite not liking it there. The fact that I had no one I could go to inside college really bothered me because I spent about 8 hours there.

3. How do you think the institution can improve in regard to taking care of the mental health of its students?
The fact that we were about 75 people in a class itself was such a big issue because you can’t tell if someone’s not okay or upset. The only thing that happened there was teaching, and the teachers I had were very good but I couldn’t go talk to anyone because no one knew anyone individually. Plus attention was paid only to marks and no one ever talked about anything else.

4. What would your advice be to struggling students with poor mental health?
To remember that although education is important, it’s not the only thing that’s going to take you ahead in the course of life. Find someone you can trust and make it a point to talk to someone about the things that are on your mind.

 

 

Image by Raw Pixel

ALSO READ: YOU CAN HEAL: A PSYCHOLOGIST’S MESSAGE

Aparajita Sanyal, L.S. Raheja School of Architecture, Mumbai

1. What made you dropout of college?
My course had a very intense structure and everything that I was really about became a background in my life. This sort of led to a lot of unhappiness with the course. I was also always very anxious because I wasn’t permitted time to do stuff that actually made me happy.

2. What were the major stressors you experienced in college?
There was a lot of pressure from the faculty to unrealistically work a lot. Ideally it would’ve been okay but it wasn’t because I wasn’t really passionate about it.

3. How do you think the institution can improve in regard to taking care of the mental health of its students?
They need to realise that we, besides being humans with emotions, are also students who are young and still very impressionable. To disregard mental health and treat kids so terribly is why so many of us are unhappy doing what we’re doing.

4. What would your advice be to struggling students with poor mental health?
Get help because it’s okay to accept that you’re unhappy. Also you can always change your situation if you’re extremely uncomfortable in it. Don’t think it’s too late or it’s not the normal way of going about things. Because once you get out of it, into a space where you belong and will actually allow you to grow, everything is so much better.

Arjun Berry, Former student at IHM, Mumbai

1. What made you drop out of college?
I realised 3 months into college starting that I wasn’t cut out for Hotel Management. It was a lot more demanding than I expected it to be.

2. What were the major stressors you experienced in college?
The major stressors for me were the lack of extracurricular activities. The daily routine was really exhausting and monotonous. As someone who loves to take part in various activities this was one of the biggest problems.

3. How do you think the institution can improve in regard to taking care of the mental health of its students?
The institution could try and implement a platform where students can go and share what they’re feeling with a professional mental health specialist.

4. What would your advice be to struggling students with poor mental health?
Things do get better. Just keep going and things will eventually start falling into place. You’re not alone and you shouldn’t keep your feelings bottled up inside.

 

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Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash
M.K., Graduated from Sophia College

1. How was your college experience as a whole?
Well, my college experience wasn’t exactly pleasant. Most of my classes were extremely unproductive as I felt that there wasn’t any real knowledge being imparted. I also couldn’t skip the said classes, because of the attendance policy that most colleges follow (which is something I am vehemently against). Thus, I usually felt like I had wasted a good 3-4 hours of my time everyday. Concerns about certain professors and their teaching methods were taken up (repeatedly) with the Principal and the respective HOD’s, but no action was taken.

2. What were the major stressors that you experienced in college?
There wasn’t any emphasis on mental health from what I remember, just the mandatory talk on it during our psych classes. Apart from a few, most of the professors were definitely not accessible. I and a few of my friends would often talk about how our concerns were usually brushed aside whenever we would approach our professors with problems that we were facing. A major stressor was our exam schedule. We always had back to back papers, which became extremely draining. This contributed to major anxiety and sleep issues faced by not only me, but many of my peers as well. The whole process of getting a major of your choice in the third year was also stressful. Also, since selection was only based on merit (and nothing else), many well deserving students lost out on the chance (students who had written research papers and had many other achievements, but were lagging behind just by a few marks).

3. How do you think the institution can improve in regard to taking care of the mental health of its students?  
Well, with respect to mental health, each college must have a well qualified counsellor. The professors should also be made aware of how to deal with students who are struggling with poor mental health (professors must try to be more approachable). Professors should be more sensitive to the needs of the students and take their concerns into serious consideration (Our teacher showing graphic videos in class had a serious impact on various students mental health, however nothing was done about it even after this particular concern was taken up with the Principal.)

4. What would your advice be to students struggling with poor mental health?
Lastly, to those struggling with poor mental health, always try to talk to someone about it. The only thing that made college a somewhat enjoyable experience were my friends. Opening up to close friends really helped me get through some difficult times. Also, if there’s one thing that I’ve realized, it’s to always put yourself and your mental health first, above all else.

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal. The Health Collective is not and does not claim to be a substitute for expert advice from trained mental health professionals.

Read More Stories by Shruti Venkatesh: MENTAL HEALTH AND POP CULTURE

FEATURE IMAGE: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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