Punishing academic pressure, huge social expectations and isolation in premier educational institutions are taking their toll on vulnerable students.
“The name of the premier institutions itself adds to the pressure faced by students, as there the failure is more acute. Suicides do not happen for a single reason but on account of a combination of multiple factors. Especially in prestigious institutions like IITs, students are burdened by over expectation from society, family and themselves, as compared to those in other average institutions. The fear of failure seems to be the highest in premier institutions. Suicide is never a surprise. In 70-75 per cent cases, the victim has expressed it to someone or other in some conversation or posted it on social-media directly or indirectly, but we do not listen to them carefully, patiently and understand their issues. No one has the time now. We often cast away their problems, minimalise or criticise,” explains Dr Lakshmi Vijayakumar, Psychiatrist and founder of SNEHA, a suicide helpline.
“In IIMs the academic pressure is not as high as the IITs. The student community is also smaller in IIMs, and the teaching method involves group studies, projects and activity-based learning, unlike the IITs where it is more driven by individual studies and rigorous transfer of academic knowledge to students from teachers who may be excellent in their subject-matter knowledge but may not be as well trained in teaching-psychology. In IIMs also, suicidal tendencies are seen, but mostly during placement season, on account of false prestige. This super high comparison starts killing students silently, who then exhibit suicidal tendencies. I put systems and mechanisms in my IIM, to ensure reporting of early signs of falling mental health of students that were reported on a regular basis, and we counselled and mentored them in time,” says Prof M J Xavier, former Director IIM-R, and Chairman, MDC, LIBA (Loyola Institute of Business Administration).
Selection to the IIM is based not only on academic ability, but also a personality test and group discussions. A more open teaching and assessment methodology, including an open culture, leads to better mental health among students, say experts from academia. But the IIMs are not absolutely free of the evils of pressure.
As per newspaper reports, IIT-M reported six suicides, IIT Kanpur five, IIT Kharagpur three and IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi one each, in 2019 alone.
“I have been going through the research reports on suicides by students, and it seems that the number of suicides in IITs or NIITs is not higher than other Indian or global institutes. Just because a name like IIT is involved, it catches more than its fair share of media attention and they come up with other issues as well. It is true that the students, especially teenagers who are making a transition from school to college life, face multiple pressures on account of family, society and academics, starting right from the time they join their coaching institutes while in school,” says Kushal Kumar Reddy, Student General Secretary, IIT-M.
IIT students say the stress starts building right from senior school days, where the coaching institutes fan the cut-throat competition in students on a daily ranking basis. When they make it to IITs, they face completion from peers who have been batch toppers in their schools. In IIT there is this batch comparison competition (example, between Computer Science and Biotechnology), rank and grade competition, and ultimately the placement-package-competition. Dr Lakshmi adds, “Students who were getting good grades were less vulnerable. Those getting lower grades or those aspiring to get very high grades were far more vulnerable to mental health issues.”A large percentage of the student population, almost 50 per cent according to unofficial sources, across premier institutions in India is facing mental-health challenges.
- Trained Student and Faculty teams (Mitr and Saathi) consisting of Cores, coordinators and volunteers, roughly about 5% of the students, directing affected students to counsellors and psychiatrists
- Mitr, an organisation functioning under the Dean (Students)
- Saathi (a proactive platform for self-growth and well-being of the students), that conducts programme establishing and improving systems to extend positivity, break the stigma associated with issues like depression, mental health and sensitise students in augmenting their self-help/mentoring capabilities maintaining confidentiality
- Consolidation of student wellness activities into a sustainable holistic process
- Access to counselling increased multi-fold including doubling face to face facility
- Coaches and PT Instructors
- Yoga and meditation classes
- Elaborate induction programmes with admission, including parent orientation
- Department-wise introduction to familiarise students
- A Life Skills course (Introduction to Research for PG) for all in first two semesters
- Each student assigned a faculty advisor
- Academically weaker students have option of reducing load per semester
- Extended semesters for who would need more time
- Increased number of electives
- Access to student tutors
- Professional counsellors provide appropriate counselling service
- Campus hospital has daily visiting psychiatrists