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Focus on students’ mental health

Amid academic and developmental concerns, college administrators grapple with formidable challenges related to psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, gender issues, life transitions, stress, and violence, compounded by emerging problems like drug and alcohol abuse.
Last Updated : 09 October 2023, 21:33 IST
Last Updated : 09 October 2023, 21:33 IST

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The World Mental Health Day, observed today, revolves around the theme “mental health is a universal human right,” as designated by the World Foundation of Mental Health. This theme assumes added significance in light of the escalating prevalence of mental health issues. It is important to explore the challenges confronting college students, considering both their short and long-term consequences, the impact on staff, faculty, and institutions, and the societal responses required.

Today’s college campuses, especially in urban areas, exhibit increasing diversity. Amid academic and developmental concerns, college administrators grapple with formidable challenges related to psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, gender issues, life transitions, stress, and violence, compounded by emerging problems like drug and alcohol abuse. 

Recent studies attribute mental health issues in young students to various social and cultural factors, including divorce, family dysfunction, early substance experimentation, alcohol, sex, and poor interpersonal relations. These issues adversely affect physical, emotional, cognitive, and interpersonal functioning, eventually impacting academic performance. Motivation wanes, leading to low self-esteem, isolation, and withdrawal. Some affected students may also exert negative influence on peers, posinmg risks to themselves and others. Failure to intervene promptly increases the risk of dropping out of college.

Recognising that students are more susceptible to mental health problems than the general population is crucial. The pressure from parents and institutions to excel academically, coupled with the struggle to navigate adulthood and relationships, adds to their stress. Parental support and positive interventions play a vital role, necessitating parents
to invest time in their children’s well-being beyond provi-
ding education.

In our competitive, globalised world, where both spouses in most families are career-driven, spending quality time with their children becomes challenging for many parents. However, they expect colleges and universities to fully address their wards’ personal and academic needs. Such an approach is deemed unacceptable and unfair by many educational institutions. It is unacceptable as it increases the demand on institutions’ human resources and financial stability; it is unfair because parents come across as unwilling partners in the education process, shying away from their significant parental obligations. While institutions must acknowledge the seriousness of mental health issues, their resources are often inadequate. Many institutions in India will not be able to shoulder such huge responsibilities. 

Educational institutions must educate administrators, faculty, and staff about mental health. They should learn to identify troubled students and refer them to counsellors. Sensitising staff to deal with such students appropriately is vital. At the same time, counselling departments in colleges should be adequately equipped to conduct outreach activities, publicise their services, address issues independently, and refer severe cases to professional counsellors. Furthermore, parents should be informed of their children’s behavioral changes and recommended actions. Such proactiveness is necessary considering the legal implications in the event of a tragedy. The 27-million-dollar lawsuit against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA by Elizabeth Shin’s parents after their daughter’s suicide, arguing that the institution failed to notify them of their daughter’s suicidal tendencies, is a case in point. 

The willingness of more students to seek counselling services reflects changing attitudes about mental health, moving away from taboo perceptions. Studies indicate that counselling positively impacts personal well-being and academic success. In the coming days, the roles of parents, teachers, counsellors, and educational institutions will be crucial for effective academic engagement. As World Mental Health Day approaches, it is imperative that we reflect on mental health seriously, recognise its adverse impact on institutions and students’ lives, consider affirmative action, and implement concrete measures on campuses to support students’ well-being.

(The writer is Professor and Dean at Christ (deemed to be) University, Bengaluru)

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Published 09 October 2023, 21:33 IST

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