Mental health issues among Indian students: Confronting an emerging crisis

Mental health is an integral part of health; it is more than the absence of mental illnesses along with prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of affected individuals.

mental health
Students usually assume that it is not normal to have mental health issues

By Dr. Durgesh Nandinee

Emerging mental health issues among students are not unknown. Mental health is a topic of discussion for decades. The issues related to it have been addressed in our Indian society on a surface level. Until now we have been underestimating the impact of mental health issues among our students due to which the suicide rate is sky-high. Mental health and physical health are connected. As we know there is one suicide attempt every three seconds and one death by suicide every forty seconds by our youth. These statistics alone are alarming enough to take cognizance of the fact that the mental health status of students is going to be the next crisis. This generation of students are talking about mental health differently than previous generations, but they do not have the right words to express it or many times their voices are suppressed. Many students and parents are stigmatizing mental health issues. Therefore, it is very essential to assess the students which need to be documented before taking admission to any institution or joining training so that they can be provided appropriate help at the right time. Mental health is indicated by the state of wellbeing perceived by the individual who feel they can cope with the challenges of life 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 along with prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation of affected individuals. Determinants of mental health include individual attributes such as the ability to manage one’s 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, and genetic factors.

Students usually assume that it is not normal to have mental health issues therefore they often hide their issues or/and ignore family members and friends or/and deny if someone asks about their problem. Nowadays many students states that they are stressed and unable to relax. Chronic stress can lead to mental health issues. The mental health needs of students those marginalized identities like students LGBTQ+ are never addressed. Because we failed to create a safer environment for them to address their mental health issues.

Students go through many transitional phases during their formative years of education. Students have different pressure these days compare to earlier and they are living in a world with the internet. They are emotionally unprepared for the challenges they face and fail to access resources that can bring balance to their life. Due to the transition, the stresses and strains are obvious. Prolong periods of struggle steer them towards distress and as a result, they suffer from issues related to mental health. There are many signs and symptoms students show when they are suffering from issues related to it. Several factors that refrain the students to access help when they are suffering from mental health issues such as parental pressure, friends, family environment, lack of awareness, mentors’ judgment, and stigma associated with mental health. Mental health issues among students are not siloed to the only health service. We have to create a society at the micro-level which will motivate the students to talk about it and get professionals’ help if required. Enable students to reach out to the services which are available in their institution or near their region will be the need of the hour.

Raising awareness and mobilizing efforts related to mental health issues in various student concentrated centers will help us to map the students who need help. Mental health promotion involves creating an environment, which promotes healthy living and encourages people to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Enabling environment through national mental health policies and legal frameworks are imperative for effective management of mental health disorders and providing overarching directions for ensuring mental health promotion. This requires an engagement in multiple sectors and a dynamic life approach. Mental health has to be treated with the same equity, and respect as all health issues.

Awareness will help to develop a culture of health and wellness, by creating a society where every student’s mental health need is given utmost priority. The need of the hour is counselling, discussing, and supporting 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, it may impede academic performance through poor concentration. In our country, if a student is not academically successful then they are not treated well by their parents and experience emotional discomfort. Similarly, the students who have unconventional education choices are harassed by their family members which disturbs their mental health. As a result, students are unable to focus on their careers or life goals. This paradigm needs to change. Now we are recognizing this issue and very few students are seeking help from professionals to cope with and to understand its impact on their lives. Professionals help the students to help themselves which makes them more productive. Mental health issues are not necessarily mental health disorders. Throat cut competition is one of the major causes which creates a distressful environment for students which fails the students to be productive and fruitful as a result they suffer from issues related to mental health.

Prevention is concerned with avoiding disease while the promotion is about improving health and well-being. Positive aspects of mental health promotion can help us set achievable goals. It is important to target the positive aspects of mental health together with targeting the illness.

The virulence of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), reported worldwide, poses potential risks for the mental health of the students in India as well as many other countries. From my personal experience, I think this is high time to address the long-standing mental health issue as we all crossed a phase of lockdown and shutdown where most of the time we stayed indoors and got various insights about our own health. Research posit that communicable diseases are expected to continue to remain a major public health problem in the coming decades posing a threat to both national and international health security. As experts envisioned, educational institution closures and social distancing are construed to be particularly challenging for the students.

Presently, the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic is a serious public health concern. Due to this pandemic, students started online classes which adversely impacted their mental health. Virtual classes and optimum level of exposure to the internet are also significant reason that the student population is suffering from issues related to their mental health. It causes stress and anxiety not only in adults but also in students.

An institution must concentrate on a curative approach to make the transitional phase smooth for students. To make this approach work we need to know our student body and get professionals who can assess our students’ mental health status. Train the institution members to inculcate unconditional positive regard and empathy as two important qualities when they deal with students.

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

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