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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Despite counsellors, IITs still struggle with student suicide - PaGaLGuY

24 September 2015

Sanjana Donkar

The media has been rife with news about student suicides in the IITs. The issue which has gained a lot of public interest is rooted farther than what actually meets the eye. According to the data by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), out of the 1, 31,666 suicides in the year 2014, students accounted for 6.1% (8032 students). The IITs themselves recorded 14 suicides in the same year. Despite measures such as having in-house counsellors, the IITs are still battling to find a tangible solution and eradicate the problem. There is a gap that exists between having a counsellor and students actually approaching them for help.

This year so far, 6 cases of suicides across the IITs have been recorded. In a society where going to the counsellor, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist labels one as having a 'mental problem', it is often difficult for these professionals to reach out to the students in distress and help them. 

PaGaLGuY spoke to various student counsellors in the IITs to ask them about the issues they face while dealing with the students' concerns. "Troubles that the students face and are willing to discuss with us could just be the tip of the iceberg. They are generalised as 'stress which is too small a word to describe what students are going through. And the stigma that comes attached to consulting a shrink is one of the huge road blocks while providing professional help to students," said Dr Shikha Jain, a counsellor at IIT Roorkee. She said it was important to make the students aware and sensitise them in order to avail help.

Even while there are students who openly avail help from the counsellors, at times they face the fear of rumours amongst peer groups. "If anyone from the friends circle gets to know about the visits to the counsellor, eventually they might gossip. It is embarrassing especially if they are issues have like relations and friendship. There are many students who approach the counsellor, but still find it difficult to admit to it," said a second-year student in IIT- Bombay

 A few girls in the IITs also echoed their discomfort to talk about certain issues to the counsellors despite them being friendly and easily accessible. The stigma apart, the students also fear for their privacy. "They don't want to open up about issues, for the fear that their private and intimate information will get revealed. Sometimes their problem might not even be a major issue if you look at it from an outsider's perspective. But for that student that problem could be the cause to get stressed and be depressed about. A lot of us face disagreements in the family, but for a student it could be the trigger, and he or she is not able to focus on studies. Ultimately it can lead to academic pressure and failure. This is then seen as the cause of depression whereas it has been the outcome of the pressure faced by the student," said an official who refused to be identified from IIT Madras. The official also added that it is not a simple equation with a simple solution.

"These are young students, staying away from home. Sometimes it takes them a lot of effort to get acclimatized to the new environment, hostel life and freedom as well. It is important to care for them and address the issues they face. They are in need of constant assurance by their family, by teachers and institute in order to keep going. No issue can be neglected as a minor case. But to reach out to them, and listen to their problem is difficult." said Sharmishta Chakrovorti student counsellor of IIT Kanpur.
Just making the option of professional help available in the campus does not solve the problem. Students may still want to give up and commit suicide. The institutes have been taking measures to address these concerns as well which we will discuss in the second part of this article.