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Thursday, May 10, 2018

How IIT Madras' 'happiness' programme helps students deal with mental pressure - India Today

How IIT Madras' 'happiness' programme helps students deal with mental pressure

IIT Madras has two student-run teams and a ‘happiness’ programme among other measures to help counsel students.
The very coaching and preparation to get into IITs is a nerve-wracking experience and news of student suicides especially when they fail to crack JEE or cannot deal with unnatural, continuous study methods is not new. But what happens to students who crack the exams and become an IIT-ian?
IIT-ians have packed schedules with classes, workshops, presentations, seminars and research projects among other work. Almost everyone is studying or innovating and such an atmosphere can at times become too much for the young college-goers.
India Today Education spoke with Professor MS Sivakumar, Dean (Students) from IIT Madras to know about the various innovate methods taken up by the institute to deal with student stress and suicidal tendencies.
Prof S.M. Sivakumar, Dean (Students), Indian Institute of Technology Madras


IIT-Madras has two predominantly student-run counseling teams -- Mitra and Sathi -- which help counsel students. While Mitra is for reactive handling of student stress and mental issues, Sathi is for preventive measures.
Reaction means when a student is already going through some emotional trauma; then the Mitra team helps in terms of coping with whatever emotional burden and also takes them to get professional help if they require it.
- Prof SM Sivakumar, Dean (Students), IIT Madras
"As far as Sathi is concerned, it is for preventive work. The team works towards building skills the students would need in terms of coping with certain situations that they might have to tackle. They could be of different nature -- peer pressure they deal with academically or even relationships. They do get tensed about small things as well," the professor adds.
Members of the Sathi team are trained at the grassroots level so that they are ready to help impart the first level counseling before they take the students for professional support provided at IIT Madras.
IIT Madras has two student-run counselling teams which help provide direction to troubled students.


First-year students need to take Life Skills (1 and 2) and a course.
"An important thing that students have to learn is how to get along -- whether it's with people, environment, animals or several other things. Students here undergo a change from being a school student to being an IIT-ian who is looked up to in terms of leadership skills, academic skills etc. So, how to get along and how to find ways by which to get along is the first step in Life Skills 1," says Sivakumar.
Students going from campus to corporate sectors need to learn certain important strategies. In Life Skills 2, IIT Madras deals with such changes that students wish to have, dream of, or are dealing with.
Many times, one of the difficulties they face is dealing with conflict -- it can arise anywhere and everywhere. How do you resolve conflicts? How do you become a leader? What kind of leadership skills are there? Why do you need to learn reason? -- These are some of the things covered in Life Skills 2.
These are seeds sown into the students so that they can build on all the seeds that we have sown.
- Prof SM Sivakumar, Dean (Students), IIT Madras
The Happiness programme carried out in IIT Madras is a brilliant initiative that provides training and information to strengthen the minds of students and develop their personality.
Apart from this, another thing noticed among students was that though they had unparalleled creative skills, but didn't realise it. For this, IIT Madras offers a course on creativity too.
"I felt the need for introducing course on Happiness, called 'Happiness, Habits and Success' so students can understand themselves," says the professor.
Through this course, students can learn a variety of tools available to understand oneself and to understand the need for development through a scientific approach.
The course includes latest psychology research, the impact of positive emotions and gratitude, a guide to meditation, advice on how to avoid distractions, research on sleep and the power of habits, the power of language, and the definition of personal purposes.
The bottom line is -- when a student feels there is no other way by which his or her problem can be resolved and they see themselves corned, that is when they feel stuck and start to abort.
- Prof SM Sivakumar, Dean (Students), IIT Madras
"If we build in them the skill of looking at various possibilities by which they can cope with the particular kind of corner they face, that is empowerment for them," adds the professor.
This capacity to deal with student stress or even suicidal tendencies is exactly what IIT Madras is building through various fronts -- through workshop modes, student-run teams like Saathi or Mitra, interaction with other students, discussion forums -- in order to communicate to students that there are possibilities they haven't explored.
An electronic board outside the office of Dean (Students), IIT Madras, urging students to call helpline if they have any stress-related issues.


Parents will always want what's best for their children and their definition of 'best' usually consists of a high salary by which their children can live a well-to-do life.
But this means that most of the time they simply aren't aware about how they become the primary contributors to their child's stress which then creates health problems.
"It's not so easy that you will just tell this to parents and it will get done," says IIT Madras' Dean of students.
"Parents have a nagging fear -- 'What if my child is not able to have the comforts of a life that is good?' And it is always attached to the profession that they take up. They do not know that there are certain talents, skills and dispositions that one needs to have and build so that they can go into a particular profession," Sivakumar adds.
He says that parents find themselves in a mess because they keep saying "study, study, study". But all they want is for their child to do something meaningful while moving on in life.
Surprisingly, the professor says that parents need to focus on building the strengths if their children instead of focusing on the subjects they aren't good at.
If my child got 95 in maths and 50 in chemistry, I should put my child in a tuition class for maths because building a strength is what should be done.
- Prof SM Sivakumar, Dean (Students), IIT Madras
Parental pressure is a major contributor to student stress.


At IIT Madras, a programme is held which school students along with their parents are invited to attend. Here, the parents are shown how their child really is. They are then told how they can nurture certain creative aspects of the kids.
I am not saying that don't do other things. But if you start to nurture and use language powerfully, the world will be a different place. We will be flooded with people who are very self-confident and who can do things they love to do.
- Prof SM Sivakumar, Dean (Students), IIT Madras
"Today one of the biggest difficulties we face is parents push their kids into doing something. Many parents of that sort come. I sit with them and tell them oh there's a connection!"
He tells us about an incident where he met a metallurgy student of IIT Madras who said that he hated metallurgy as there was no mathematics there.
"So I sat down with him and showed where all mathematics is there and how beautifully it is intertwined with materials," the professor says.
"That was the end of his demotivated period. Now he sees mathematics in many different ways when he goes to his material course."
Professor Sivakumar says that a certain mindset change needs to happen which can allow child and parent see each other's points of view.

He explains:

So it's a way that the shift has to occur so it is possible for both the parent and the child to be able to understand. In fact, I did this exercise along with the parent so that they can understand where the problem is.
Prof S.M. Sivakumar, Dean (Students), IIT Madras, talking to students


IIT Madras also has professional counselling units and two professional counselling providers. They use several means to touch students-it could be through online chat, or face to face counselling.
When the counsellor looks at a student we have pulled out of the brink, the reason seems to be a very simple reason, says Sivakumar.

The professor explains how we are blinded by stress:

If you take a coin and put it in front of your eyes, everything else disappear, only the coin is visible. A very similar thing happens to them-the moment they have a little bit more time, they come out of this rut.
"So, how do we bring in that particular time that they need to have -- this is what we work on," he adds.
Professional counsellors are present in IIT Madras who help students where Sathi and Mitra fail


Life will always have one challenge or another, each of which can help us learn various life skills. The moment we get stuck after failing to get to our goals via one path, our life seems to stop.
Students need to avoid getting stuck after a failure and develop a 'growth mindset' that can help them keep moving on in life without getting sucked into a depressive state.
"Motivation is about what you want to do, what you want to be, what you want to have-and these are not static, these are dynamic," Professor Sivakumar explains.

The concept of 'growth mindset' as explained by the Dean:

We need to understand that there are several ways that we can achieve our goals. There is no one single path that takes you to the goal -- understanding this itself will help enable you to see other ways to achieve your goals and therefore not get de-motivated. I call this the 'growth mindset'.
Professor MS Sivakumar has some amazing advice for students which most youngsters tend to forget:
"We are not here to do a sprinting. It is a long life. Don't worry! If you are 20, you have around 70 more years that you can live happily."