Mumbai: Social stigma keeps troubled IIT-B students away from counselling

A recent article in Insight, the premier institute’s student newspaper, highlights that while the provided facilities need improvement, students too need to take the initiative to ask for help

The Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) has stepped up its efforts on providing counseling to students suffering from depression or anxiety. IIT-B made changes to its existing counseling mechanism after observing two suicides and one suicide attempt over the last year.

Even so, the social stigma of undergoing counselling still keeps many students away from the counsellors. A recent article in Insight, the institute’s student newspaper, has highlighted that while the facilities provided by the institute need improvement, students too need to take the initiative to ask for help.

“It’s sad to see that students still don’t approach counsellors when they first start feeling depressed. The competitive atmosphere gets to most of us, especially, since we stay far away from our home. It is important to be vocal about our problems,” said Mihir Kulkarni, one of the editors of Insight.

Loopholes
The article highlights the loopholes, not only in the institute but also in the student community. The mentorship program introduced by IITs across the country — where senior students mentor freshers to help them cope with pressure — has brought about some change.

“The good thing is, that there’s more acknowledgement of stress and pressure amongst the students now, which is very important. But beyond that, we need to address this problem proactively,” added Kulkarni.

Need more counsellors
However, all this still cannot suppress the need for more counsellors on board. At present, IIT-B has two full-time and one visiting counsellor, who visits student hostels and talks to the students regularly. With close to 10,000 students on campus, the three counsellors handle quite a handful, as they meet about 7-8 students everyday.

“The number of students a counsellor sees on a daily basis can vary. But the number of students connecting with the counsellors is showing a steady increase,” said Shivani Manchanda, counselling coordinator at IIT-B. She added that with the new steps taken by the institute, more and more students are sharing their problems.

IIT-B says
While officials at the institute stated that students have not yet approached anyone demanding more counsellors, they didn’t deny the problem. “With three counsellors on board, we are reaching out to as many students as possible. We are still looking to hire more counsellors.

We are already in the process of hiring a fourth counsellor and are also taking active steps to ensure a total outreach program,” said Soumyo Mukherji, student affairs Dean at IIT-B. He added that the management is also in talks to introduce a new counselling center code to the student hostels, but it is yet to be approved.

Recent suicide/attempted suicide cases at IIT-B

June 2015: A 23-year-old MTech student, pursuing degree in Earth Sciences, tried to end his life when he was alone in his room at Hostel 5. His mates claimed that after the initial attempt to commit suicide by hanging failed, he popped some pills. He was immediately rushed to the IIT-B Hospital and later to the Hiranandani Hospital in Powai, where he finally recovered.

May 2015: Jitesh Sharma, a third-year chemical engineering student, was found dead on the terrace of one of the hostels on May 2. The 21-year-old was reportedly suffering from depression and had been undergoing counselling for over six months. His body was found around 7 pm on the terrace of Hostel 15-B. He resided in Hostel 8.

September 2014: Aniket Ambhore (22), a fourth-year student pursuing a dual degree in electrical engineering, died after falling from the sixth floor of Hostel 13. Aniket was immediately rushed to Rajawadi Hospital, Ghatkopar, where he was declared dead on arrival. It is still unclear whether it was an accident or a suicide.

The PAL system
At IIT-Gandhinagar, the institute started a Peer Assisted Learning system (PAL), three years ago. This system appoints mentors and groups that help students deal with stress and pressure. While helping freshers, the system also involves compensation for the seniors, who get paid Rs 125 per hour.

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