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Why universities should prioritise its students’ mental health?

The accessibility to mental health resources has resurfaced again as we look back on the Shiv Nadar University shooting incident. Considering the video statement by the accused that mostly revolved around his unsolved past traumas – iitpossible that his suppressed trauma led to such a horrific incident? While campuses earlier did not focus much on providing mental health services, this is when they should start considering this. University students, in 2020, reported rapid spikes in anxiety and depression, with many students dropping out of college. Mental health issues in students are often multi-faceted and arise due to sudden lifestyle changes such as career uncertainty, financial difficulties, feelings of alienation, and family problems. The pandemic was also associated with the rapid hike in stress and anxiety disorders among students. Going back to the real world has not been easy for many students and has affected their mental health even more severely. Higher education students' declining mental health is a public policy concern, and the impact of actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 has heightened theawareness of this problem. Mental health issues are on the rise on university campuses and the management is severely lacking to implement concrete policies to safeguard students’ health.


The tedious process of booking a 1:1 session.
In the Shiv Nadar incident, despite the multiple emails sent to the management regarding the violence the victim was subjected to – the university did not intervene as it should have, instead labeled the entire incident as “lover’s spat” even though the emails indicated the disturbed mental health of the accused. Along with Shiv Nadar Universityseveral tier-1 colleges do not provide students with same-day intake for a counseling session.


Anushka Pragya, a Ramjas College alumnus says, “There is no in-person communication in setting up a session and the entire process seems as if there is some secrecy to it.” Despite the availability of an on-campus counselor, students look for external resources to maintain their mental well-being – not to mention the expensive nature of psychiatric help. “We need to send an e-mail to a faculty co-ordinator who later forwards the request to the centre,” she further said. Institutions should devote more resources to quick access and evaluation so that students can walk in for a single counseling session on the same day rather than spending weeks or months on a waitlist.  


 


The gap lies between the management’s ability to ensure a healthy environment and the student’s choice to speak up.Oftentimes, there is not enough awareness about the existing on-campus counselors among the students – stemming from the lack of communication and the tedious process of sending unending emails to the administration to fix an appointmentcreates an untrustworthy environment.


 


Poor identification of mental illnesses.


Management also often relies on faculty members to be the “first responders,” i.e., a sudden drop in attendance, late submissions, and lack of engagement are identified as signs of psychological distress among students but there are not many referral options available on the campus. In addition to this, not all faculty are trained to recognize psychological stress. Arpita, a current Christ University student says, “The management is not very student-friendly and always narrates the rigid regulation of the university – completely devaluing any mental health concerns.” In this case, it can be noticed that the on-campus referral options are simply acting as the mouthpieces of the university – putting at stake the concern about the betterment of students’ mental health. Bijoy Sharma, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia says, “I was humiliated by faculty with statements like, ‘we will see you next year,’ upon failing an exam.” The aforementioned facultybehavior is far away from being the “first responders” and highlights diminished emotional responsiveness instead. Non-identification of mental illness and lack of support erodestudents’ self-esteem and may also heighten feelings of loneliness.


 


Importance of outreach initiatives in institutions.
In some colleges, student bodies are seen taking initiatives about mental health, and gender sensitization – simply to raise awareness for the same. In some cases, student-led groups lent a hand to students in need and provided them with mental support. Lovisha Sharma, a former student of Dyal Singh College says, “The Women Development Cell (WDC) of my college helped me get through tough times as I was diagnosed with clinical depression. The members reached out to me themselves as I was not present for two days.” Here we see, the people who had the least capacity to provide professional help were the ones to provide it. Hence, the idea of not having any peer support groups in higher studies institutions is somewhere arbitrary. Unwavering support from people around you is as significant as getting professional help. Anushka Pragya, A Ramjas College alumnus says, “There were no conscious efforts made by the administration to promote safer environment for mental health, no sensitization at all. There were no group discussions and no support to student-led bodies to raise awareness about these issues.”


The road to destigmatization and growth.


Among college students, mental health illnesses are less destigmatized than in the past, making more students seek treatment. However, overcrowding in university counselingcenters is also a hindrance to reaching the desiredaccessibility. Rajeshwari Karnik, a Clinical Psychologist, who also served as an assistant professor at Christ University, Bangalore told The Social Talks, “To combat the overcrowding, universities should collaborate with mental health professionals, allowing everyone to address their issues.” Collaborations will not only ensure the single-day intake but will also foster a holistic and student-friendly approach on campuses.


 


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