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Monday Morning Article Cover for: Inside Out: Delving into Student Mental Health



Inside Out: Delving into Student Mental Health

Nov 6, 2021|5 minutes

Maitrai Sinha

Sayambika Das

Swatishree Mahapatra

'Mental Health' - a word that does rounds in our lexicon without a majority of us understanding its implications.

The substantial increase in the number of people struggling with mental health and many giving in to the illness without proper diagnosis is concerning. Time and again, heart-wrenching stories of someone one knows or from the news make one question society and, in turn, one's own self. With the onset of another online semester and the never-ending wait of campus return, mental health issues need to be addressed.

What's important to note is the number of suicides and mental health complication cases and the demography that accounts for these numbers. Suicide in India peaks in young people. In developed countries like our neighbour China, suicide cases peak in older age. According to NCRB data, in the past year, India lost more people to suicide than coronavirus. Suicide takes more lives of youth in India than any other disease.

Understanding Mental Health

Tracing down why and how mental health problems happen is still a tough job. It is not yet fully understood by experts, either. Factors, including but not limited to genetics, socio-economic context, family backgrounds, deep emotional trauma, can give rise to temporary or lasting psychological suffering, depending on the cause and how the person affected takes it.

When it comes to students, stress is a common factor. Psychologists would define stress as the process by which we perceive and respond to specific events, or stressors, that we view as challenging or threatening. The human race wouldn't have survived for this long had it not been for stress-inducing hormones.

Everything is good in moderation. So is stress.

So, when does stress stop being a survival tool and turn into something worse?

When stress crosses its healthy limits, it starts to wreck both the body and the mind. It does significant damage to the body's systems like blood pressure, breathing, body temperature, digestion, and heartbeat and can even paralyse us from carrying out usual tasks.

In students, much of their stress stems from carrying academic expectations. A classic example is Kota, Rajasthan. Quoted as the "Coaching Capital of India", it houses around 1.5 lakh students and their fragile aspirations. To crack competitive exams like JEE, NEET, the cram school structure has forced students to take a detour from normal life and join in the rat's race. While a few success stories make it to the headlines, several dreams remain unfulfilled every year.

As famously said by Jeetu Bhaiya from Kota Factory.

Bache Kota se nikal jaate hain, Kota bachon se nahi nikalta... Iss kachhi umar mein jab kisi cheez ko itne dil se chahte ho, toh mil gai toh sukun hai. Aur nahi mili, toh milti hai jealousy, chubhan, self-doubt. Confidence gir jaata hai. Phir jitna duniya nahi samajhti na, utna aadmi khud ko loser samajhne lagta hai.

[Translation: Students leave Kota, but Kota doesn't leave students for a long time. When you crave something so bad at a young age, it can go either way. If you get it, you are at peace, but if you don't, you get jealousy, self-doubt in return. Your confidence drops. As much as the world doesn't, you keep blaming yourself and think of yourself as the loser.]

This is not just the story of Kota. The same state of hopelessness looms even over the students from the top institutes, those who live the dream that a million others aspire to achieve. A recent suicide note from a student of IIT Kharagpur pours in another daunting question: How worsened is students' mental state due to the online classes?

Detour from the Normal: Online Classes

The virus has brought in a paradigm shift. The drastic shift from the hustle and bustle of school/college life to monotonic video call classes was not easily adaptable by all the students bringing about momentous changes in the mental well-being of students.

One obvious consequence of connecting virtually for a class is the very absence of a classroom environment. The dynamic classroom experience has been boxed up within the inches of our screens. The increased screen time and lack of interaction between instructor-student and peers have far-reaching consequences on the students' physical and mental health.

From the survey conducted by Monday Morning, a surprising 82.3% scaled 1 to 3 out of 5 when asked how well they are coping with their academics which is a clear indication that students have found it difficult to adjust with the online semester and studies.

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.

Image Caption

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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