An HRD panel has recommended full-time counsellors and psychiatrists to help those with suicidal tendencies in colleges.
Tackling the issue of suicides has always been a matter of concern for premier technical institutes. A new finding by an HRD panel has recommended full-time counsellors and psychiatrists for every institution. Colleges need to hold regular counselling sessions and encourage students to seek assistance from their team of specialists without fearing any stigma, the report said. The report looking into the problem of increasing student suicides at IITs and other centrally-funded technical institutes such as NITs, IIMs, IIITs, has found that suicidal tendency and mental health concerns are not limited to those who take the extreme step. Hundreds of students in these reputed institutes seek psychological counselling to adjust to the competitive atmosphere, and grapple with burn-out issues, homesickness and new-found independence.
To make the students feel at ease, many IITs, including IIT-Madras, had a week-long induction programme for first-year students. Even the parents were briefed about the system and how they need to motivate their children through the curriculum. “Not all students speak about their problems because counselling is still not made compulsory. What we need is a regular session of motivation, like most universities abroad have,” said D. Patil, associate professor at IIT-Bombay.
According to the report, as many as 872 students across 26 centrally-funded technical institutions (CFTIs) have taken psychological help in two years alone. Most of the damage is done in high school, according to the report, where unrealistic/inflated Board marks, social isolation, thanks to long hours of tuition classes and family pressure have already affected students even before they enter a professional institute.
Since 2008, at least 33 students across IITs have killed themselves. And it is not the IITs alone; premier private colleges under Anna University too have recorded several cases of suicides in the recent past. Institutes such as IIT Kanpur, IIT Madras, IIT Kharagpur and Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, already have counselling units, while other institutes have been asked to set up centres similar to theirs.
It is always not about academic pressure alone, said Arpit Sawhney, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur. “If you look at the curriculum, there are fewer courses than earlier. Students are provided opportunities to recover from failure by offering summer courses. The working weeks have been reduced, so have the class hours. There are more days to prepare for exams and the number of fail grades has reduced. There are more extracurricular activities on every campus now. So, there might be multiple psychological reasons for suicides which can be different in every case.”
The Madras Guidance and Counselling Unit (GCU) at IIT-Madras offers counselling services to students on an anonymous basis, round the clock. Counselling experts talk to these students either over the phone or face to face, as preferred by the students and help them vent their frustration and problems. “Last year when the suicides took place, we started some counselling sessions for the students. But the attendance at these sessions was very poor. Students found it difficult to open up to the counsellor,”said M. Sekar, dean, College of Engineering, Guindy. Over the last few years, the university had taken severe steps to combat ragging, and one provision was also to prohibit senior students from interacting with their juniors.
Sessions by alumni
“We realise, due to this, students do have many people to talk to. These sessions are taken by the alumni of the university, sometimes even the senior students, so that students can relate to them better,” said Professor Sekar. “We have had university rank holders who also have excelled in other fields. When they talk about how they managed their time, it really inspires the students here.” Apart from calling people who have made it big in various fields, including entrepreneurship, sports, music, arts, academia and other fields, the university invites recent pass-outs and entrepreneurs of the university to speak to these students. The sessions are in Tamil and English to put everyone at ease. In the first week, yoga classes were organised for the students. “They were taught some relaxation exercises. This period is meant for them to relax, not to think about marks or jobs. The curriculum can be rigorous for students who have just joined college, so having a compulsory period to relax can do wonders to reduce their stress levels,” Professor Sekar added.