Mental Health Problems Among Indian Students: Confronting an Emerging Crisis

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By Dr Durgesh Nandinee

Emerging mental health issues among college students are not unheard of. Mental health has been a topic of discussion for decades. The related issues have been addressed in our Indian society at a superficial level. So far, we have underestimated the impact of mental health issues in our students due to which the suicide rate is extremely high. Mental health and physical health are linked. As we know, there is a suicide attempt every three seconds and a suicide death every forty seconds among our young people. These statistics alone are alarming enough to raise awareness that student mental health will be the next crisis. This generation of students talks about mental health differently than previous generations, but they don’t have the right words to express it or their voices are often muffled. Many students and parents stigmatize mental health issues. Therefore, it is essential to assess students who must be documented before being admitted to an institution or undergoing training so that they can receive appropriate assistance at the right time. Mental health is indicated by the state of well-being perceived by the individual who feels able to cope with life’s challenges and is a productive part of the community.

Mental health is an integral part of health; it is more than the absence of mental illnesses and the prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of those affected. The determinants of mental health include individual attributes such as the ability to manage thoughts, physiological changes, emotions, behaviors and interactions with others. In addition, social, cultural, economic, political and environmental factors have a role to play, as do specific psychological and personality factors and genetic factors.

Students usually assume that it is not normal to have mental health issues, which is why they often hide their problems or/and ignore family members and friends or/and deny if anyone ask questions about their problem. Many students these days report feeling stressed and unable to relax. Chronic stress can lead to mental health issues. The mental health needs of students with marginalized identities like LGBTQ+ students are never considered. Because we failed to create a safer environment for them to address their mental health issues.

Students go through many transition phases during their first years of study. Students have a different pressure these days than before and they live in a world with the internet. They are emotionally unprepared for the challenges they face and lack access to resources that can balance their lives. Due to the transition, the stresses and strains are obvious. Long periods of struggle steer them toward distress, and as a result, they suffer from mental health-related issues. There are many signs and symptoms that students exhibit when they are suffering from related issues. Several factors prevent students from accessing help when experiencing mental health issues, such as parental pressure, friends, home environment, lack of awareness, judgment from mentors, and associated stigma to mental health. Mental health problems among students are not confined to the health service alone. We need to create a society at the micro level that will motivate students to talk about it and get professional help when needed. Allowing students to access the services available in their establishment or near their region will be the need of the hour.

Raising awareness and mobilizing efforts related to mental health issues in various student concentration centers will help us map students who need help. Mental health promotion is about creating an environment that supports healthy living and encourages people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. The creation of an enabling environment through national mental health policies and legal frameworks is imperative for the effective management of mental health disorders and for providing general guidance to ensure the promotion of mental health. It requires engagement across multiple sectors and a dynamic approach to life. Mental health should be treated with the same fairness and respect as all health issues.

Raising awareness will help develop a culture of health and wellness, creating a society where every student’s mental health need is the top priority. The need of the hour is to advise, discuss and support our students. Mental health plays a major role in an individual’s ability to maintain good physical health. Not only does mental health affect physical health, but it can hamper academic performance due to a lack of concentration. In our country, if a student is not doing well academically, he is not treated well by his parents and experiences emotional discomfort. Similarly, students who have unconventional education choices are harassed by family members, which disrupts their mental health. As a result, students are unable to focus on their career or life goals. This paradigm must change. Now we recognize this problem and very few students seek professional help to cope and understand its impact on their lives. Professionals help students help themselves, which makes them more productive. Mental health problems are not necessarily mental health disorders. Cut throat competition is one of the major causes that creates a distressing environment for students which hinders them from being productive and successful as they suffer from mental health related issues.

Prevention aims to avoid disease while promotion aims to improve health and well-being. The positive aspects of mental health promotion can help us set achievable goals. It is important to target the positive aspects of mental health at the same time as targeting the illness.

The virulence of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), reported globally, poses potential mental health risks to students in India as well as many other countries. From personal experience, I think it’s high time to address the long-standing mental health issue because we’ve all been through a phase of lockdown and shutdown where most of the time we’ve stayed inside and got various information about our own health. The research posits that communicable diseases are expected to continue to remain a major public health problem for decades to come, posing a threat to national and international health security. As experts have envisioned, school closures and social distancing are seen as particularly difficult for students.

Currently, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic constitute a serious public health problem. Due to this pandemic, students have started online classes which has had a negative impact on their mental health. Virtual classes and the optimal level of exposure to the Internet are also important reasons why the student population suffers from problems related to their mental health. This causes stress and anxiety not only in adults but also in students.

An institution should focus on a curative approach to ease the transition phase for students. For this approach to work, we need to know our student population and have professionals who can assess the mental health status of our students. Train members of the institution to instill unconditional positive regard and empathy as two important qualities when dealing with students.

(The author is Assistant Professor of Psychology, GITAM School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Hyderabad Campus. Opinions expressed are personal and not necessarily those of Financial Express Online.)

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