It has been more than 3 months since the death of a Lady Shri Ram College student. The girl was a bright meritorious student, and many questions have been asked ever since about the true culprit behind this tragedy. But what has changed after all this time?
The college has reduced its fees considering the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent financial crisis. This was accompanied by the distribution of laptops and data packs. Student-Faculty Committees were formed to discuss the concerns of students, among other steps. There have been many conversations, especially around the unequal access to digital resources. Additionally, many other department and college-level initiatives have come up in the last few months. But the extent of improvement remains questionable because the root of issues always remains unaddressed i.e. the system itself.
Once a student enters an institution, the educational system puts every student on the same level while assessing them, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. While we could have a long conversation about this issue alone, we need to address more deep-rooted ones first.
A student’s death by suicide points out the digital divide and the struggle of a common man to educate their child. This is a reminder to the people in our country whose dreams consist of something as basic as education. These financial constraints are not new. Institutions across the country need to work on providing more equity. Subsequently, here is another hurdle that adds to the students’ burdens.
Beyond fulfilling dreams
Getting admission to the University of Delhi is a dream for many in the country. For a vast majority of students, the enthusiasm is soon replaced with the anxiety to match the standards of their prestigious institutions. Academic pressure and the stress of seeing everyone around doing internships, additional courses and extra curriculars is a familiar feeling. From the lack of exposure to the expectations of dressing and talking a certain way, these are just a few of the many things that can be a cause of great stress. To be socially accepted, one also needs to match their tastes in activities meant to be relaxing and recreational like art, movies, and music. In conclusion, the feelings of achievements and realizing dreams all come crashing down within a week of being in DU.
Such an experience demands a safe space to have conversations and cope with the anxiety. This is a reminder to focus on your mental health. But to whom do we seek help? What is the status of mental health resources in the University of Delhi?
Mental Health Check: University of Delhi
University of Delhi’s official website has listed the contact details of counselors at the corner. Many colleges also have the facility of personal counselors. Lady Shri Ram College for Women has listed the various counseling facilities available on their website, which includes personal counseling. Additionally, the college has a Peer Support Program which is a group of trained peer supporters that provide a space to the students where they can share their personal issues. They also organize many webinars. Similarly, Hindu College has a counselor along with a Mental Health and Counseling Cell- Friend’s Corner.
A student from Dyal Singh Evening College informed DU Express about the mental health resources available to them i.e. a counselor. During the pandemic, the counseling services have continued telephonically. Many webinars have been organized by the college such as ‘Finding Happiness’ on 15th May 2020. Additionally, in order to reach out to those affected during the lockdown, a podcast called ‘Chasing Sunshine’ was started which dealt with issues related to mental well-being.
On the other hand, a student from Mata Sundri College shared that the college has no counselor. However, a committee was formed during lockdown which consisted of teachers from various departments. The students can approach them with any mental health issues they were facing.
According to an article by Hindustan Times, Manoj Sinha, general secretary of the DU Principal Association and Principal of Aryabhatta College said, “As administrators, we know the importance of mental health issues and consistent efforts are made in this regard. There are mentors who can be approached when students need help, at least one-third of all DU colleges have trained psychologists as counselors.”
Mental Health Check: Students in India
The University Grants Commission asked higher educational institutes to take measures to be mindful of their students’ mental health during the pandemic. This includes regular monitoring by counselors, setting up helplines, mentoring by teachers, and forming student-help groups. Besides this, the Ministry of Education has introduced a telephone counseling service for students. It is a toll-free helpline (8445440632) for students with mental health issues or for those facing stress.
The coronavirus pandemic brought the issue of mental health to the forefront worldwide. Most institutes started something – be it holding webinars or forming committees. We need to criticize the situation pre-pandemic but also take the current momentum forward. Very few colleges have counselors or have an inadequate number of counselors. While webinars, committees, and mentor systems are really helpful, they cannot replace trained professionals. But even getting mental health resources is not the end, our work does not stop here.
Information dissemination is an issue that most colleges face. Many students are not even aware of counselors available in their college. All of this requires a conversation to remove the stigma from mental health. Participate in an initiative or just start with simple self-care. If you don’t know what to start writing in your journal, search for prompts online. Use YouTube to guide you for meditation. Contact helplines, if needed. Just take that small step you planned to take this new year, it’s never too late to begin. We need this small step to make Mental Health- the new normal.