I have a Solution that will reduce pressure on IIT aspirants but do not know how to get this across to HRD Minister of India. Suggestions are welcome. - Ram Krishnaswamy

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Research Team At IIT Kanpur Develops Online Tool That’ll Help With Mental Health Issues - Youth Ki Aavaaz

Research Team At IIT Kanpur Develops Online Tool That’ll Help With Mental Health Issues

Posted by Shivani Gautam in Campus Watch
July 28, 2018
The researchers from the Department of Biological Sciences and Bio-engineering, IIT Kanpur, are working on a study to help individuals deal with mental health issues using helpful online tools. The team headed by Prof. Nitin Gupta, in collaboration with the Department of Computer Science & Engineering, Department of HSS (Psychology) and Dr. Alok Bajpai, Visiting Psychiatrist, Counseling Service at the Institute, have developed TreadWill.
TreadWill is a website which uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help individuals deal with depressive symptoms. In an interview with Campus Watch, Prof. Nitin Gupta spoke about TreadWill and mental health assistance for people.
Shivani Gautam: How would you describe TreadWill for the uninitiated audience?
Nitin Gupta: TreadWill is an online tool that provides the same type of psychotherapy that one gets in a one time session with a therapist. India has many people who suffer from various types of psychiatric problems like depression or anxiety but the number of therapists who are providing psychotherapy is very small. Also, most people are hesitant to talk to someone in person and want to remain anonymous. Considering these circumstances we developed TreadWill.
SG: Who all are a part of this project? Is this exclusively run by students and researchers at IIT Kanpur?
NG: The project started in my lab and has been worked upon by many students. Arko Ghosh, a PhD student, was one of the first ones to work on it and he has been helped by many other students. We have also taken help from our counseling service for ideas and content and taken suggestions from our psychiatrist Dr. Alok Bajpai.
SG: What was the motivation behind TreadWill? Why the name ‘TreadWill’?
NG: We wanted a name that is catchy and easy to remember and also somehow reflected the application that it performs. ‘TreadWill’ is derived from ‘treadmill’ which as you know is an exercise machine. Similarly, ‘TreadWill’ is like an exercise for the mind. We wanted to do something related to computer application, and IIT Kanpur provided the platform. My background is in neuroscience and we wanted to do something related to the brain. We thought about doing something that could help people with mental health issues.
SG: Do you think TreadWill could be an alternative to going to a psychiatrist?
NG: I wouldn’t use the word alternative because for severe cases certainly one should go to a psychiatrist. However, TreadWill could be very useful in mild to moderate cases. Also, it can be a complementary tool for someone who is visiting a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists usually have a tight schedule while TreadWill could be used at whichever time is convenient for the person in the privacy of their room.
SG: Currently, you are conducting a study to test TreadWill, how have people responded to it? How do you plan to market it further?
NG: We didn’t want to release the program before knowing how useful it is, right now it is in limited access. Once we see that it’s useful, we will release it for the public. So far more than 150 people have enrolled.
SG: What are your views on student suicides, especially in engineering colleges? How do you think the college administration can help in this regard?
NG: It has been a problem. I am aware of many suicide cases in different IITs, but I am sure it’s a general problem in most colleges. It’s not just a problem in India, MIT for instance has an even higher rate of suicide than colleges here. It’s a general problem in the student community because of the high competition or other pressures. One of the reasons why students reach this stage is because they don’t get early intervention. If they are provided some help while the case is mild then it may not aggravate into a suicide. One way the administration can help is by checking on students from time to time. So far colleges have counseling services but they are quite overburdened.
SG: The internet already has apps that deal with mental health issues like anxiety or depression, how is TreadWill different from these?
NG: One of the basic problems of these apps is that they are not very engaging. People do use them but soon get very bored and don’t bother using them anymore. So, we focused on making the content more engaging and personalized. In most apps, every user gets pretty much the same content and most aren’t personalized to an individual’s need. This is what we have tried to do, we have made the content more personalized and are working within that paradigm.
SG: There is a lot of stigma attached to mental health, especially in India it is ignored. People are often afraid or embarrassed to ask for help . How do you think we can combat this issue? Did you consider this before working on TreadWill?
NG: The stigma is obviously one of the major problems. There are people who realize they are going through these issues but aren’t willing to go to a therapist because they are embarrassed. These people can especially get benefitted by our automated tool because it maintains anonymity. I guess when more people become aware of this problem, it will help them to treat it. There are some initiatives which have been started to raise awareness about mental health but I think we need more of these to normalize mental health issues and make people more comfortable discussing it. We will have to work upon the availability of diagnosis too for the people.
Image source: Prasad Gori/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Sunday, July 29, 2018

India’s Mental Health Hit Rock Bottom, And We’re Still Lying There - Youth Ki Aavaaz

India’s Mental Health Hit Rock Bottom, And We’re Still Lying There

Posted by Khadija Kunda in Mental Health
July 26, 2018
Did you know that suicide is the biggest cause of deaths among youth in India? According to a 2014 report, about 800,000 people commit suicide worldwide every year, of these, 17% (that’s 135,000 people) are from India. Between 1987 and 2007, the suicide rate increased from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000 people, with higher suicide rates in southern and eastern states of India.
Hold on. I know what you did there. Yes, you! You, my reader, with your screen in front of you, gazing at all these facts and figures. You skimmed right through all of it, didn’t you? You la-la’d your way to the end of the paragraph when you saw those figures scattered across my article, didn’t you?
Perhaps this thought crossed your mind, ‘here’s just another writer talking about stuff no one’s going to remember afterwards’. The truth is, you don’t care about numbers or statistics, and I know it. The number of people who have attempted suicide and those who killed themselves has reached its zenith. But all of that is just ‘n’ number of digits for you, and it doesn’t make a difference in your life.
But hear this: A 14-year-old girl died a horrendous death when she hung herself from a ceiling fan with her mom’s dupatta. Her parents found her body, tiny for her age, with all the life sucked out of it. They mourned. What they didn’t realise is that their daughter had stopped living way before the day she committed suicide. She had been dead inside for a very long time.
Did that have an impact on you, dear reader? Or was that tragedy just another death among a million more? The problem with us Indians is, we don’t take mental health seriously. It’s not a part of our ‘well-being’ curriculum. Every hour, one student commits suicide in India. We have news reports scrawled all over newspapers, but if you look closely, they are just a bunch of facts, insensitively reported without a mention of the mental health of the victim. Disregarding mental health even after reading how a victim was disturbed enough to commit suicide is just plain nonsensical.
I’ve read articles on suicide almost daily in extremely popular newspapers. And I’ve seen how reporters crave absolutely any definite reason behind the ‘accident’. If a girl committed suicide, it’s mostly assumed there’s a jilted lover involved.
Take the report on the IIT aspirant (left). This is a very clear example of how suicide is reported in our country. The reason offered was the person in question “had been upset after scoring poorly in monthly test”.
Too often, reporters don’t even try to highlight the issue of mental health or what mental turmoil a person must have gone through before deciding that their life isn’t worth living.
Given how often we read about it, is suicide really that small of an epidemic? Do we humans, being ‘rational’ in nature, even for a moment consider reasons above and beyond the one printed in the report above? You don’t just kill yourself over marks, it goes much deeper than that.
The first thing that we can do is create awareness, laying the groundwork for publicly accepting how big of an issue depression is. Raising the issue on social media can be a huge step towards igniting consciousness amongst the minds of many. The second step is informing people through public posts about how depression isn’t all ‘in the victim’s head’ but an actually scientifically proven illness which needs to be attended to.
I recently created a campaign urging people to put a hashtag in their Instagram bios. That hashtag is#MyDoorIsAlwaysOpen. It means you will always be ready to talk to anyone who’s feeling depressed and lonely.
It’s hard to get access to good, certified therapists or proper help, but once we start being there for each other, we put in place a community of concerned people looking out for each other!
There are times when all you need is someone who will listen, someone who won’t judge, someone who knows how exactly it feels to want to die and live at the same time. The campaign garnered a good response. Online campaigns like these need to reach a wider audience. More importantly, it must reach those not found on social media through word-of-mouth. It’ll be a beginning to something revolutionary.
Indeed, there is a stigma attached to mental health and all its characteristics in our country. But with so many reported suicides, isn’t it time for us to grow up and get over our narrow-mindedness? Yes, it definitely is! We have hit rock bottom and it’s time to stop lying there. It’s time to get up and free ourselves from the clutches of mental health stereotypes. It’s time to embrace and understand the intricacies of human psychology.
There are thousands of young people who go through this. The young girl whose parents found her. Dalit rights activist Rohit Vemulas. And they are more than just numbers. They are human beings with personalities and stories. They carry the burden of depression and they were thrown over the edge because of our lack of seriousness about this issue.
These names, these numbers, they were forgotten. But not anymore. Not after today. So, keep your doors open. Because we will take this epidemic head on!
Image for representation only. Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Saturday, July 21, 2018

These 'privileged' engineers are openly challenging Section 377

These 'privileged' engineers are openly challenging Section 377 Reuters JULY 19, 2018 12:35 PM IST K...

Read more at: https://english.manoramaonline.com/news/nation/2018/07/19/privileged-iit-engineers-challenge-homosexuality-ban.html

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Mumbai: 16-year-old boy commits suicide by jumping off 8th floor from Mulund high-rise - Free Press Journal

— By FPJ Web Desk | Jul 07, 2018 11:35 am

Representational image

On Friday, a 16-year-old student allegedly committed suicide in Mulund. The 16-year-old boy, who was preparing for the IIT entrance exam, jumped from the 8th floor of a high-rise in Mulund.

According to Mid-Day, the incident took place on Friday between 8 am and 8.30 am. The boy went up to the 8th floor, a refuge area of the building, and jumped off. After the boy fell down, the residents of the building immediately rushed him to Fortis Hospital where he was declared dead. The boy’s father works in the UK, and during the incident, his mother had gone to gym and elder brother was out playing football.

A police officer from Mulund police station told the leading daily, “We have talked to the family and many people who knew him, but no one could tell us whether he was depressed or in trouble. Everybody is shocked. We are scanning his mobile phone records and social media accounts for clues.” The police have registered an Accidental Death Report and are trying to find the reason behind the suicide. No suicide note has been found yet.

A day in the life of A Gomathi, an aspiring medical student from Tamil Nadu state board - Indian Express

A second 17-yr-old has killed herself in TN after failing to clear NEET despite high marks in Class 12. Gomathi tries not to let this, the “unfair” system, and 20 hrs of 12 textbooks daily, kill her spirits

Written by Arun Janardhanan | Updated: July 7, 2018 

 Gomathi with her parents at her Chennai home. A big photo of Ambedkar and posters of star Ajith adorn the walls. (Arun Janardhanan)

The last show at INOX multiplex at Virugambakkam in Chennai ended around 1 am. Two hours later, on a narrow street behind it, A Gomathi, 17, begins her day. She doesn’t dream much while asleep, for around three hours every night, till 3 am. But her every waking moment is spent dreaming of only one thing: becoming a doctor.

Last year, Gomathi topped Class 12 at her Jaigopal Garodia Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Virugambakkam, scoring 93 per cent marks in the Biology-Mathematics stream. She had aced Class 10 too at her school, with 95 per cent marks. By now, she had hoped to be enrolled to become a doctor. However, she wasn’t among the successful candidates in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to medical and dental courses, results for which came out on June 4 — among the many students in Tamil Nadu who failed, and who fear the CBSE-oriented test puts the nine lakh-plus students like them taking Class 12 exam from the state board every year at a disadvantage.

In September last year, S Anitha, 17, of the state’s Ariyalur district had committed suicide when she failed to clear NEET after having scored 98 per cent marks in Class 12. Recently, another 17-year-old, Pradeepa, who had scored 94 per cent in Class 12, killed herself, in Tiruvannamalai district, after NEET failure.

Gomathi tries not to think about this as she squats on the floor in her 400 sq ft, two-room house, beneath a large portrait of B R Ambedkar. The photograph was a gift at her wedding, smiles mother A Malathi. As Gomathi studies uninterrupted till 7.30 am, Malathi says she will keep her company, and “Ambedkar will be watching over her”.

Ambedkar shares space on that wall with half-a-dozen portraits of actor Ajith. All those belong to Gomathi’s elder brother A Manikandan, a B.Sc computer science student who is a fan of the actor.

For the next four-odd hours, in a sweltering room cooled by only a fan and lit by one bulb, as Gomathi fights sleep, tiredness and often boredom, her father R Anbazhagan, her grandmother and Manikandan sleep in a thatched-roof cottage next door.

Says Malathi, 42, “Gomathi has been following this routine since Class 10, except for 40 days of coaching provided by the state government in April.”

Anbazhagan works with a private TV showroom as a cleaner and earns around Rs 7,500 a month. “So we can’t afford to pay Rs 45,000 for NEET coaching,” Malathi says.

Parents of Tamil Nadu state board students like Malathi believe that because of this, their children can never breach the gap to NEET. Political parties in the state have questioned the decision to not take into account Class 12 results, as used to happen earlier in the state, but bank on just entrance tests for medical admissions, where children with coaching can score. With the introduction of NEET, the quota kept for Tamil Nadu in the state’s medical colleges — as well as a government quota in private medical colleges — has also ended.

At 22, Tamil Nadu has the most number of government medical colleges in the country.

At the peak of the anti-NEET protests in the state following Anitha’s suicide, the state government had announced NEET coaching centres for underprivileged students. A one-month programme was run in April this year as part of this, at nine centres. Around 3,000 students were part of these camps. Gomathi attended one such centre near Chennai, along with 400 students from 12 different districts.

In the days leading up to this year’s NEET, held on May 6, Gomathi knew there was something afoot — with protests, TV debates, and political discussions on. But, she says, she kept her mind focused on what she had to do. “I know that I may not clear NEET next year too, as I don’t have coaching. Still, I have to give it a try. Who else will try for me?” she says.
Around 7.30 am, Gomathi gets up from the floor, packs away her books and heads to the kitchen to help her mother with chores.

But the talk keeps returning to NEET. This year her score was 90 out of 720, six marks short of 96, the cut-off for Scheduled Caste students. The family is Adi Dravida. But that can’t be her benchmark, Gomathi says. “I won’t get a medical seat unless I score better.” Low marks would mean a seat only in high-paying private colleges — not an option for her.

However, she wonders, why the entrance exam asked her things she had “never learnt”. “I just cleared Class 12. You ask questions from what I learnt all these years,” Gomathi says.
Around 8.30 am, Anbazhagan leaves for work. He mostly skips breakfast so as to reach the shop as early as possible. Once in a while, when he has time and can rouse himself after a day’s work, Anbazhagan makes black coffee for Gomathi while she is studying.

As brother Manikandan leaves for his college, the private Meenakshi College of Engineering, around 9 am, Gomathi smiles wistfully, “He is lucky, he doesn’t want to become a doctor.”
Unlike him, Gomathi doesn’t have a favourite actor either. In fact, she says, while they stay next door to the multiplex, she has never been to a cinema theatre. Neither has she gone to malls or even Marina Beach. “I have seen the beach from the bus,” she says.

Her first visit to Chennai’s emerging neighbourhood, Anna Nagar, 6 km away, was when she went to write the NEET exam. Outside Chennai, she has gone to Mamallapuram, once, when in Class 5. She is not sure if she has ever seen the gates of IIT-Madras.

As the house grows quiet again, Gomathi goes back to studying. She will go on till evening, with just a lunch break in between. Most of her study material, stacked on a chair, deals with Biology. Physics and Chemistry make up the rest of the 12 textbooks.

The three-hour NEET exam has 180 questions, all multiple choice, including 90 from Biology, and 45 each from Physics and Chemistry. Gomathi says the NEET coaching provided by the government also focused on Biology. “But only 10 out of 180 questions from what we learnt at the centre came.”

Plus, she wonders, why the multiple choice questions. “Don’t writings and critical analysis help give an original answer? Shouldn’t they test that, ask my interest in becoming a doctor? Why is the government selecting MBBS students thus?” she asks.

Two students of her school who managed to clear NEET with the help of coaching also couldn’t get a medical seat, Gomathi adds. “Does all the rote learning and tricks that coaching teaches you for good scores in NEET help a doctor? Does it help a doctor do critical surgery? If the state board syllabus is at fault, why do CBSE students too need coaching?”

It’s 3 pm, and looking on at her daughter, Malathi says, “She never asks for jewels or costumes, anyway we couldn’t afford to….” Apart from the books, she adds, her daughter’s possessions include four sets of salwar-suits, two sets of school uniforms, and a new cellphone.

For the past five years, Gomathi had been getting an annual scholarship of Rs 1,800 from a private trust. “After Class 12, we decided to leave it to her to do what she wanted with it. She bought a phone. That is her only source to get information on admissions,” Malathi says.

Anbazhagan returns home late, as does Manikandan, after hanging out with friends. The TV is kept shut as Gomathi continues her studies. She says she will be up till midnight.
But she doesn’t grudge any of that, Gomathi says, nor the sleep of only three hours, nor “not having any other dreams except NEET”. What the 17-year-old wants is answers to a few more questions: “Why not provide us equal opportunity before forcing us to compete with CBSE, ICSE students? If the Prime Minister came, I would tell him, ‘I will prove myself but give us equal education before you make us write a common exam’.”

As posters of ‘toppers’ go up, another 80,000 enter race for NEET at Kota - Indian Express

The results are in, the posters of ‘toppers’ are up, and Kota is set to begin another year of preparing, praying. Till then, for a while, students can ‘relax’

Written by Deep Mukherjee | Updated: July 7, 2018 4:50:12 pm

            In queue at a Kota coaching centre. Express

It’s easy to spot the students in Kota. They walk in groups, clutching umbrellas bearing the names of coaching centres in the city as the mercury goes over 42 degrees. Others, much older, in their late 20s, zoom past on motorcycles, their T-shirts with the faded names of coaching institutes indicating a much longer stay. It’s also easy to spot the ‘successful’ students in Kota.

It’s the month of results of competitive medical and engineering entrance examinations, and at the entrances of the city’s coaching centres, to which aspirants from across the country flock, hang life-size pictures of the ‘toppers’, many of them flashing the victory sign. Down below, every available space along roads is covered with posters of yoga guru Baba Ramdev.

The JEE Advanced results, for admission to the coveted IITs, followed by other top engineering colleges, came 10 days ago. Of the estimated 1.5 lakh students enrolled at any time in the big and small 30-odd coaching centres in Kota, around 7,000 qualified this year. At least 60,000 qualified for counselling in the NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) exam for medical admissions, results for which were declared on June 4, a jump of at least 25,000 over the average of the past three years.

Between these numbers lies another ominous figure, of suicides, 12 so far this year by students. In order to stem the suicides, coaching centres have introduced a series of measures to help their students de-stress, but after falling from 20 in 2016 to seven last year, the suicide numbers are up again.

                Towered over by ‘toppers’. Express

But in Kota, life has already moved on, with many of those who failed to make it pitching their tents in for another year, and at least 80,000 new hopefuls flooding in. Coaching centres estimate that only half of those who don’t make it any year leave; the rest stay back to give the entrance exams another try.

Amidst the incessant commotion near Kota’s Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, 19-year-old Ranjit Kumar is fidgeting with his mobile phone outside a bank, checking for messages. “For some technical reasons, mobile alert messages about bank transactions and funds transfer have stopped, and this results in a lot of problems. I am here to solve this glitch as I will be staying here for another year,” says Kumar, a resident of Siwan in Bihar.
Kumar, who had appeared for NEET this year but couldn’t qualify, will soon join the students popularly known as ‘The Thirteens’ in the coaching hub.

“Thirteens are the students who stay for one more year after their Class 12 exams in order to take another chance at qualifying. The coaching centres have separate batches for them called the leaders’ batches,” explains Kumar.

The institutes also give a discount to students repeating a year, starting from 10 per cent. But Kumar says he is discussing with his family whether he can join a different centre this year, in the hope that it will help him qualify.

Piyush Singh, 18, has just arrived from hometown Korba in Chhattisgarh. Having failed to clear the JEE Advanced, Singh decided that his best shot was moving to Kota. “All the best coaching centres are here,” says Singh. Having come just two days ago, the 18-year-old is yet to find a place and is for now staying with a friend. Standard accommodation in Kota costs Rs 10,000-15,000 a month, including room charges and food, with electricity bill separate.

Navendu Jha, a resident of Patna, who has come to enrol his son Shubham, who wants to prepare for NEET, says, “At times we do get scared after hearing about student suicides, but it’s also true that one has a much better chance of qualifying for the competitive exams studying at institutes here.” Jha adds that he had to search for several days before he could find an accommodation where his son could study without “disturbance”.

Nitesh Sharma, the chief media and marketing officer of Allen Career Institute, Kota’s biggest coaching centre by far, says their student numbers have risen from last year. “Around 67,000 students have already taken admission and we are expecting the figure to cross 1 lakh by the end of this year,” he says.

Scattered around roadside eateries and mobile recharge shops, many students sitting with friends, earphones plugged in, are enjoying a break from their gruelling schedules. Suman Kumar Verma, who came to Kota a month ago to prepare for NEET, admits one thing unites all of them. “It is easier to study because everyone relates with the other owing to their same objectives.”

Still, as Nishant Ingole, 17, from Aurangabad, says, this period, after the results and with nearly a year to go for the next exam, is their best at Kota. “Every day, I have around seven hours of classes, but at this time, we have some time to listen to music, go out with friends to places such as Chambal Garden in the city, and relax.”