Inside Out: Delving into Student Mental Health

Nov 08, 2021 | Maitrai Sinha Sayambika Das Swatishree Mahapatra

  • Expressing her discontentment at the fixed monotonous schedule of 8-5 classes, Dibyani Sahu, a sophomore from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, said –

    Time management is the biggest challenge. Being at home, having a proper schedule is tough. We know that even if we wake up at 7:55 am, we can join the class at 8 am but there we lack in focus. If the campus open, then we might have a better schedule of everything.

    According to a study conducted by NCBI to gauge social media addiction in college students, 36.9% were reported as 'social media addicts'. With the advent of online classes, it has increased manifold. Not only does it hamper the academics of students, but it also leads to severe mental complications in the long run. To know more about how social media has affected us in the online mode, click here.

    Another prefinal year student opines about his inability to manage the academic load:

    No, frequent assignments in between a stretch of days is hectic. In the online mode, the increased screen time affects body health.

    Academics aren't the only thing getting affected. The pandemic has cooped us up within our houses, where the graph of growth has gone stagnant. When asked if students are able to manage academics with their extracurricular activities, 68.9% voted for a 'no'.

    The formative years of our lives are being spent in our homes. The dread of not being able to retrieve the loss even when the pandemic would be over has led to anxiety among students.

    We're all missing out on so many mundane social interactions: walking between classes with pals, chatting with the barista at your favourite coffee shop, and making small conversations with your professor before class begins. These small yet precious moments add up, and without them, even the staunch introverts feel isolated.

    This isn't the end; studies have found that this is further intensified with a lack of outdoor activities. Exercising and sports help divert the attention and tendencies to overthink. With the greater part of the day being spent in front of the computer screens, these little things are easily skipped, contributing to a sultry state of mind with very few channels to release it out. Further, the decreased pressure to attend online classes creates an evident lack of discipline to sleep and wake up punctually. An unhealthy sleep cycle is also one of the primary causes of mental health complications.

    Brushing it under the Carpet  The Neglect Faced

    Despite having such harrowing consequences, mental health is more than often neglected or treated with a state of apathy. Unlike physical health conditions, symptoms of any blip in mental health are not immediately evident to the world. To be clinically relevant, mental health problems 'must' give rise to physical pain or impairment

    While taking a break for a fracture is normal, yet taking a leave to deal with anxiety or stress isn't considered. People who suffer from an episode of mental health's deterioration are often told that this is "just in the head", "pointless overthinking", or "lazy excuses". Visiting a professional for advice or help is stereotyped or stigmatised, and subsequently, they feel embarrassed or lose the "strongman" narrative. 

    Thus, more than half of people with mental illnesses avoid or delay seeking treatments. We asked if people are comfortable sharing any struggles regarding their mental health with their family and friends.

    While a majority, i.e. 53.3%, agreed, a significant 46.7 % denied the same. The question is why. Why are people hesitating to talk about their issues out loud?

    Normalising Mental Health Talks

    Social media and pop culture narratives have opened these conversations, giving them momentum like never before. We are in an age of revolution where, although many are aware of mental health, the method of diagnosis and treatment still remains traditional.

    There is a misconception around how we see mental health only from a lens of disorder. This makes it harder to work on concerns that improve life quality and effective coping strategies. People confuse mental illness with mental health conversations because there is such a profound lack of awareness on these issues. There's a clear distinction between a common cold and tuberculosis, a headache and a brain tumour.

    The need for a healthy dialogue has become the need of the hour. One must not wait for any struggle with mental health to become a disorder in order to seek help.

    Taking the Way Forward

    Mental health is one of the most vital areas where one needs to pay attention. We asked the respondents if they had ever consulted a health professional or knew someone who did so, and only 24.4% responded positively.

    Some of the ways to do so are valuing self, being healthy, giving time to self and mindfulness, socialising and interacting, and breaking the monotony.

    The pandemic has narrowed down social interaction. We asked our respondents about how they managed to have some peer to peer interaction to break the ice. Here are some of the responses.

    Trigunaditya Panda, a sophomore from the Department of Civil Engineering, said

    “Whenever I get some time between my work, I just try to call some of my friends. I tried travelling to the cities of some friends and planned a few meet-ups. Clubs play a considerable role in interacting with both batchmates and seniors. Had it been offline, things would have been far better, but having no other options, these interactions proved to be quite helpful.”

    Riya Priyadarshini, a 3rd-year student from the Department of Planning and Architecture, said -

    “Having a pet helps me cope up with things.” 

    Some of the anonymous replies said:

    “Yes, the interaction is primarily online. But we do try to catch up online during weekends and share our thoughts.”

    “Kept regular contact with some close ones. Actively participated in group conversation among batchmates.”

    I plan my day according to the schedule and during my free time, I focus on my extracurricular activities and take some rest. During weekends, I like to revise the topics covered that week for some time. Though it does get hectic sometimes when there are too many assignments given.

    NIT Rourkela came up with Institute Counselling Services (ICS) to foster healthier conversations about mental health and create a safe space for students as well as faculty. When asked in the survey about ICS, here are the results.

    ICS and the institute still have a long way to go in order to normalise mental health. The survey also clearly indicates that maximum people are not availing ICS services in this online semester, thus questioning the efficiency of its initiatives. Taking a step forward, ICS collaborated with YourDost and opened the path for everyone to avail of its counselling services. For more details, refer to this article

    A Better Tomorrow

    When 'mental health' conversation comes up, we often keep passing on the blame from friends to family to institute to the government and so on like a game of 'Passing the Parcel'. We are blaming society, but we are society. Often such discussions are considered taboo.

    This is a healthy reminder for us to be more open and empathetic towards our mental health, to seek help when needed and make healthy conversations. 'Address' and 'Acknowledge' is how one must tackle mental health. Moreover, it is okay to have a blip on the radar and to struggle with mental health now and then.

    There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen.

    Team MM hopes that the taboo surrounding mental health is taken care of and more initiatives are taken to ensure that everyone's lives get better. 

    Designs by – Piyush Kumar Sahoo

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