Collector fixes October 7 as date for commencing comprehensive training programme

“How many of you would accept (it) if your children or grandchildren want to undergo genital reconstruction surgery and transform themselves into transgenders?” K. Sekar, Professor and Head of Department of Psychiatric Social Work at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, asked a group of college principals and faculty members here on Tuesday. Not a single hand went up.

“If educated people like us hesitate to accept such things, imagine the plight of illiterate parents who are shaken to the core when their children come up up with such ideas. And whether you believe it or not, these issues are increasing in number across the country and we at NIMHANS have been dealing with such parents and their children,” the professor informed his stunned audience.

He was addressing a training programme organised by the district administration for college teachers on the need to provide counselling and psychological support to their students. The one-day event is a prelude to a 15-day full- fledged training programme meant for faculty members from every college in the district. The training will begin from October 7.

According to Prof. Sekar, mental illness sets in between the ages of 13 and 15, and begins to show up at the age of 18. “The tricky part is that the illness in pre-adolescents cannot be detected easily. Their behaviour will be normal. It is only during the post- adolescent stage that they begin to exhibit the symptoms. Therefore, it is important to keep a close watch on children.

“If the illness is detected at an early stage, it can be cured within 45 days. But if it is too late, then it will take years and even decades to cure such people,” he pointed out. Adolescents are often troubled by sexual transformations taking place in their bodies, and the problems get compounded when they are not able to clear their doubts with someone they can trust.

Lack of support and the absence of a confidant with whom adolescents can share their personal problems lead to poor academic performance and a higher dropout rate. On top of this, low mental health literacy among parents and teachers, coupled with children’s addiction to the Internet, pushed adolescents to depression and suicidal tendencies, he noted.

Stressing the importance of psychological counsellors in educational institutions, he said the concept of counselling in colleges introduced in Bengaluru about a decade ago had developed to the point where counsellors now have a separate association for themselves. They have also been extremely successful in preventing suicides and solving a host of problems faced by students.

Explaining the need for such programmes, Collector L. Subramanian said every college should appoint counsellors in compliance with State government orders. The Regional Joint Director of Collegiate Education had also sent a circular to the institutions in this regard. Yet, a majority of them had not appointed counsellors.

“I don’t want you to delay it any further. Recently, a widow from Melur approached me with a complaint that her daughter studying in Class VIII went missing from home for more than a week. On enquiry, we found that the girl had been enticed by a 45-year-old married man. It was a shocking revelation for me.

“The girl fell victim because she was alone at home most of the time. Her mother, a noon meal cook, had to travel to Usilampatti every day for work. Therefore, after rescuing the girl, the first thing I did was to transfer the woman to a school in Melur. This incident is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many children who are crying for help. We have to help them,” Mr. Subramanian said.

C. Ramasubramanian, Nodal Officer for mental health programmes in the State, said the initiative taken by the Madurai district administration to have counsellors appointed in every college was path-breaking as it had not been done in any other district. If the initiative succeeds, the project will be recommended to the State government for implementation across the State.