The preliminary findings of an ongoing study among 1,000 students in the 16 to 22 age group across 15 colleges in Mumbai, Kalyan, Dombivli, Badlapur, Ulhasnagar, and Karjat show that each one of them have experienced at least one prolonged episode of severe and acute emotional imbalance.
According to the study being carried out by Anubhuti, a non-profit organisation, most of the students chose to ignore the episode and failed to seek medical help. Deepa Pawar, director of Anubhuti, said, “Of the 1,000 students, less than 10 had sought help. This is a crucial point as it highlights the tendency of ignoring such episodes which may at some point of time be linked to suicidal tendencies or suicide.” Ms. Pawar said youngsters need to be made more aware of mental health issues and avenues that provide professional help.
The study show that factors such as increased competition, job insecurity, social insecurity, inflation, and lack of guidance in relationships affected mental health. Among the reasons behind the episodes of mental imbalance were social vulnerabilities such as poverty, caste oppression, hailing from a minority community, being a woman and identifying as LGBTQ.
According to the analysis, nearly 75% of students could not define mental health and just 8% had knowledge about the issue. Around 90% of students admitted to seeking help at temples, churches, gurudwaras and madrasas before visiting hospitals because of the stigma attached with mental health problems. About 92% of students said mental health was not taught or included in their college curriculum.
The students accepted that they lacked information on mental healthcare provided at government hospitals and 85% of them could not name a single institution providing mental healthcare in their vicinity. “This especially affects youths from socio-economically diverse backgrounds who deal with mental health issues without institutional or family support systems. There is very little literature on the topic that is accessible to diverse students,” the study stated.
The findings show that just two of the 15 colleges had appointed a counsellor and none of them had a counselling centre. Even the two colleges were struggling to convince students to approach the counsellor. Benaifer Sahukar, a counselling psychologist in the city, said it is crucial for all colleges to appoint counsellors. She said students should be constantly reminded that they can seek counselling to deal with mental health issues just like they would approach a doctor to seek relief from physical pain.
Anubhuti plans to use the findings to advocate for institutional, administrative, and policy-backed support for creating awareness of mental health issues. Ms. Pawar said, “We have drafted a set of recommendations which will be handed over to the authorities.” The recommendations include incorporating the concept of mental health dignity in the curriculum, setting up information centres and counselling centres in all colleges, and adding a module on mental health in National Service Scheme activities.