Students' Mental Health In India

The pandemic created fear and uncertainty, contributing to poor mental health. Students found it difficult to adapt to digitalised classrooms when everything was shifting online. Students from lower socio-economic strata were hit hard as they had no access to laptops and other facilities

Mental health refers to a state of emotional, cognitive and behavioural wellbeing. It is all about the individual’s thought process and how it reflects feelings and behaviour. Mental health is often used to indicate the absence of a mental disorder. Like physical health, mental health is also important. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get the attention that it requires. This negligence has a significant impact on health, social, economic factors and human rights.

Though everyone is susceptible to psychiatric conditions, college students are one of the most vulnerable groups. Teenage is a critical period involving the transition from childhood to adulthood. Adolescence is associated with changes in the brain, body and social environment. This makes them vulnerable to various psychiatric conditions. Their mental health is affected due to a variety of causes like heredity, attachment patterns with parents, demands and frustrations experienced in schools and colleges, low self-esteem, bodily changes, relationship issues, living in an unsafe or toxic environment, separation or divorce of parents, chronic illness in the family, death of a loved one, moving or changing schools, financial problems, addiction to the internet, etc.

Major depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, substance use are commonly reported conditions and their onset is in adolescence. Shockingly, death by suicide is the third leading cause of death among young adults and is a significant problem among college students. In the Indian subcontinent, mental illnesses remain undiagnosed and help-seeking behavior is inhibited primarily due to the stigma or lack of proper information. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) survey revealed that 12-13 per cent of students in India suffer from psychological, emotional and behavioural conditions.

One of the most exciting and sometimes stressful transitions is that of entering a college. Colleges provide the academic knowledge and are also second homes to students. Over time they develop an emotional attachment with the educational institutions. College life brings in not only fun adventures but also many challenges. There are several changes in an individual’s life after stepping into college. Instead of adding life skills, education is adding unnecessary stress. The widening schism between what education is and what it should be is a matter of concern. This might trigger a psychological condition or exacerbate the existing symptoms.

While discussing mental health, it is not possible to ignore the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic caused a spike in mental disorders among adults. Pandemic led to the disruption to day-to-day activities, education, routine, recreation, and concern for family income and health. It left many youngsters anxious, angry, and concerned for their future. The pandemic created fear and uncertainty, contributing to poor mental health. Students found it difficult to adapt to digitalised classrooms when everything was shifting online. Students from lower socio-economic strata were hit hard as they had no access to laptops and other facilities. Students reported that they could not enjoy academic activities as most of them were battling anxiety, isolation, depression and fear. The fear was not only related to poor performance failure to achieve academic goals but also an uncertain future. Whenever a family member contracted Covid-19, it significantly increased the students’ levels of anxiety and depression. Children have had limited access to support from social services throughout the pandemic due to lockdown measures. Being away from friends, family, classes and recreational activities caused isolation and anxiety. Some got stuck in a toxic home environment that put them at a higher risk of neglect and abuse. The impact of Covid-19 on their mental health and well-being will remain for many years to come.

In some cases, stigma is due to lack of awareness, denying mental health symptoms, poor or inadequate treatment among college students and it contributes to the persistence of mental health problems in this population. UNICEF conducted a 21-nation survey on help-seeking behavior and found out that only 41 per cent of young people in India seek support for mental health problems, compared to an average of 83 per cent for 21 countries. These numbers are concerning.

Identifying protective factors, early identification, and treatment of psychiatric conditions will have a favourable impact on the trajectory and prognosis of the disorder. Some of the protective factors that can buffer the effect of stress are loving caregivers, safe home, school and college environments and healthy peer relationships. As discussed earlier, stigma and poor funding of mental health services come in the way of experiencing positive mental health or accessing the support they need.

It is imperative to sensitise teachers and make them aware of the psychological conditions and the available interventions so that they can help students. Workshops on identifying basic mental health issues and psychological first aid can help in achieving this objective. Further, college clubs can run campaigns and group discussions on mental health. Universities/colleges should have health centres. A collaborative relationship between medical centers and behavioural health services will help in identifying problems. Subsequently, referrals can be made to behavioural health centres if needed. Services can be coordinated with the help of electronic medical records (EMRs). EMRs may be a good choice for college students because it enhances coordination and communication between providers. A safe environment should be created for students belonging to the LGBTQ+ communities to address their needs.

The country will be taken care of by the young minds. It is essential to focus on their development and wellbeing. No empowerment can happen without psychological empowerment. If they are given appropriate support in different areas of life, including mental health, they will turn into rational, emotionally stable, healthy and productive adults.

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