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Saturday, April 22, 2017

IITs wake up to suicide threats, conduct parent-teacher meets & creative exercises - Economic Times


By Prachi Verma, ET Bureau | Apr 21, 2017, 06.17 AM IST
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Students at these prestigious institutes often spiral into depression on account of daunting academic challenges.

NEW DELHI: A rise in suicides and attempted suicides at India’s premier engineering institutes has turned the authorities edgy, forcing them to take a diverse range of measures to help destressed students

The initiatives include parent-teacher meetings — heard of only in schools — at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi to connecting with nature through tree-hugging campaigns at IIT Kharagpur and counselling at IIT Madras and IIT (Banaras Hindu University) Varanasi. To help students deal with stress, IIT Guwahati has set up a creativity centre where students dance, sing and play instruments. 

IIT Bombay is adding two counsellors and a psychiatrist to its staff. Students at these prestigious institutes often spiral into depression on account of daunting academic challenges and expectations and pressure to perform from parents and peers. 

Since January 2016, there have been about a dozen suicide deaths and attempts at the IITs. 

There’s also been an increase in the number of students seeking counselling. Of the total visits made by people aged 18 to 25 seeking help, 70% are pursuing professional courses such as medicine and engineering, according to Cosmos Institute of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, a New Delhi-based provider of mental healthcare services. 

The number of students visiting CIMBS for counselling has risen by 12.5% in the past year, said Shobhana Mittal, associate consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist. 

It’s usually the freshers who face pressure and are prone to stress, having made it into the IITs after sustained efforts, sometimes over a few years, preparing for the joint entrance examination. 

“First-year students are often found burnt out. Most students are not well-rounded personalities as a result of 18 hours of coaching for last three years before cracking JEE,” said Soumyo Mukherji, dean of student affairs at IIT Bombay. 

It’s a whole new world for students who enter the IITs after clearing the tough JEE and many are overwhelmed as they find themselves among other high performers. “It is often found that most of the depressed students at IIT Madras were pushed by parents to enter the IITs. 

In many cases, it turns out that their interests are different from engineering,” said G Ranga Rao, chief advisor of Mitr, a unit that responds to cases of depression among students at IIT Madras. 

Last year, IIT Madras split its guidance and counselling unit into Mitr and Saathi, a wing that takes proactive steps to check depression among students. 

“Focus here is more on proactive steps as most students do not come forward. We need to catch them,” Rao said. The institute, which already has two counsellors, is now looking at adding three more. 

IIT Kharagpur is implementing an innovative idea to reach out to students through programmes with a different theme each month to help them develop a positive attitude. 

January was a month of gratitude and in February, students observed 28 days of random acts of kindness. March was about helping students answer the question, ‘What are you proud of ?’ “This month it is about connecting with nature and building resilience. 

As trees are most resilient, each student will identify special trees and try connecting to them,” an IIT Kharagpur spokesperson told ET. 

IIT Kharagpur recently launched a Facebook page especially to respond to students facing pressure. 

It has round-the-clock counsellors to take calls, which touched almost 3,000 in the past year. There are over 11,000 students at IIT Kharagpur. 

The opening of the creativity centre last year at IIT Guwahati, which has over 1,500 students as of this month, appears to be working. 

“In the last one year, IIT Guwahati has not reported any suicide case. There is definitely a dip in depression among students here, especially with the opening up of this centre,” said its director, Gautam Biswas. 

With a recent suicide case haunting IIT BHU, the institute kicked off a three-week induction programme in July where students are taught art, music, painting and dance forms by the faculty from Banaras Hindu University. To ensure a smooth settling down, the students are taken around to visit monuments, temples and mosques and taught human values. 

“Induction programme helps to open up students and give them a larger view of the world. We try to teach how to embrace failure (including academics) and treat it as a minor hiccup,” said its director, Rajeev Sangal. He added that the institute is hiring counsellors. 


IIT Delhi started an academic mentoring this year where low performing juniors get special attention from seniors and faculty members. “We are in the process of formalising a schedule for students to mentor the juniors on a daily basis,” said Sangeeta Kohli, a faculty member involved with student activities at IIT Delhi.