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Saturday, June 13, 2015

SHAKEN BY SUICIDES, IIT-B TAKES NEW MEASURES TO CALM BEAUTIFUL MINDS - MUMBAI MIRROR


By Arita Sarkar, Mumbai Mirror | Jun 12, 2015, 12.25 AM IST




HELPING STUDENTS IN DISTRESS: IIT-B director Devang Khakhar (left) and dean of student affairs, Soumyo Mukherjee

The institute will seek help from renowned psychiatrist Vikram Patel to improve counselling of students, also organise orientation workshop in July for parents.

Two suicides and one attempted suicide within ten months by some of their best and the brightest has prompted Indian Institute of Technology Bombay to take radical steps to help students in distress.

Speaking to this newspaper on Thursday, IITB director Devang Khakhar and dean of student affairs, Soumyo Mukherjee, revealed they have done away with the earlier rule under which students could be referred to a mental health counsellor only through the dean of student affairs. Both men said that given the sensitivities involved, it was imperative to maintain discretion and anonymity of the distressed student.

Learnings from the tragic suicide of their students Ankit Ambhore and Jitesh Sharma has prompted IIT to organize an orientation workshop next month exclusively targeted at parents.

In addition, the institute is planning to call on the expertise of Vikram Patel, psychiatrist and Professor of International Mental Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who was recently named among the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME magazine, and who happens to be Khakhar's brother-in-law.

Following the launch of a Facebook page, I Care, last year IIT Bombay has now also deployed senior students to watch out for signs of depression among its juniors.

Stating that academic pressure is not the only cause for suicidal tendencies, Khakhar said over the past few years students at the undergraduate level have been under a lot of pressure from their family and friends as well. "If the students are not doing very well academically, then they are not going to get the big job in the end which puts pressure especially on students who have built a backlog. From our end we have cut down on the credits so that academic pressure is not that high in terms of workload."

Khakhar who has been IIT director for over six years, says the institute had asked Aniket Ambhore who jumped off the terrace in September last year, and who had a keen interest in music, to take a year off to focus on his other interests. However, apparently his parents had dissuaded him from doing so. "Taking time off is never an issue at IIT Bombay provided there is a valid reason," says Khakhar adding that often students feel the pressure from their family to finish the course within four years and participate in the placements.

Khakhar, who himself enrolled at IIT Delhi as a student in 1976, says suicide on campus was not unheard of even in those days. "It's not as if cases of students committing suicide have started now but it is very difficult to identify students who are on the verge of taking extreme steps (as opposed to) students who are just plain unhappy."

Urging students to not be worried about backlogs he says IIT Bombay, unlike other Indian Universities, does not fail a student. Emphasising the flexibility of the academic curriculum, Khakhar says, "If a student has earned many backlogs, then the student can take five years instead of four to clear the papers. Students should be more worried about the education they get rather than how many years it takes them to finish it."

WORRYING SIGNS

June 1: A 23-year-old student, pursuing a dual degree in MSc and PhD in earth sciences, tried to kill himself by repeatedly banging his head against a wall in his hostel room. He also slashed his wrists before consuming a poisonous substance.

May 2: Jitesh Sharma, a 21-year-old student of chemical engineering, was found dead on a hostel terrace. Sharma committed suicide by consuming a chemical.


September 4, 2014: Aniket Ambhore, a dual degree student in electrical engineering, fell to his death from the sixth floor of the hostel building. He was also undergoing treatment for depression.