“Such instances highlight the need for institutional support as well as counselling facilities for students who are appearing for competitive examinations,” says Kiran Ambatipudi, associate DOSW (Student Wellness), IIT Roorkee. The institute offers 24×7, free-of-cost counselling service (online and in-house) to help students tackle their academic and personal concerns more responsibly.
Society, according to Dr Prerna Kohli, clinical psychologist, pays far too much attention to financial and academic success. “Parents need to teach their children that failing is normal and encourage them to have a Plan B and Plan C ready, just in case Plan A fails.”
If it isn’t exam stress, social pressures and the taboo to openly discuss suicidal thoughts may create communication barriers for the students. “Clinically speaking, mental illness (untreated and undiagnosed), a history of suicide in the family, sexual or physical abuse and impulsive behaviour are some of the key drivers. Additionally, ineffective coping skills with day to day circumstances and poverty may prompt some to take extreme steps, Kohli adds.
HEIs must rise to the fore
“Many institutions are restructuring their courses and pedagogy, emphasising on holistic education and making adequate provision for recreation, physical exercises and counselling facilities to provide end-to-end support. Parents’ sensitisation programme can also be incorporated to facilitate support,” Ambatipudi suggests.
But the role of academic institutions to identify high risk students and bring them back from the ‘edge’ is of paramount importance, says Geeta Sahare, student counsellor and deputy dean, University of Delhi. The pandemic, she adds, was a test of students’ emotional resilience. “Frequent postponement and rescheduling of exams left students confused, triggering anxiety and high stress levels. Some cried over the loss of an academic year owing to poor internet access and their inability to download question papers and submit answer sheets on time. For others, it was the heavy rains (along the coast) and lack of mobile phones and laptops that threw a spanner in the works. Feelings of ‘what will my parents think’ and lack of self-worth preyed heavily upon them,” says Sahare who has been helping students through tele-counselling.
“Psychological first aid training should be emphasised among students, faculty and staff to end the stigma around mental health concerns,” Ambatipudi adds.