Schools in Mumbai reopened in a phased manner earlier in the week for the first time since March 2020 amid the new normal. With Class 8 to Class 12 being the first to return to classrooms, junior college -- which falls into that classification -- has resumed too. However, for senior college students, classes have remained online so far. The uncertainty over when they will be able to get back on campus still lurks.
While some introverted college-goers may be enjoying the new virtual way of life, it has largely hampered the social interactions of many. That has certainly been the case for Kaneena Venugopal, a second year management studies student who started senior college in 2020. “Considering that I haven’t even been to my degree college and I’m already halfway through this course, I do miss just being on campus with friends. Especially because I was very active in junior college with cultural festivals and everything,” she explains. With the ongoing uncertainty, Venugopal is unsure how she will cope when she finally attends college in person, as she has become accustomed to not travelling and attending lectures online.
Venugopal is one among many in the city who are living through this experience. They are missing out on meeting peers, building close friendships, and sharing ideas through physical interactions. Typically, it is these interactions that help shape their thinking and social circle over the course of their studies and even for the rest of their lives.
For more than 18 months now, senior college students have not gone back to campus. Mid-day.com reached out to Dr Kersi Chavda, consultant psychiatrist at PD Hinduja Hospital & MRC to understand why the social aspect of college life is important and how students can deal in its absence.
Beyond the academic aspect of college, why is the social aspect important for students? When students are out in college, they are meeting people, interacting with them, going for coffee and doing things in groups. It is an important part of socialising as it keeps them busy. However, that has not been possible. Kids have been meeting on Zoom but that is not the same as meeting friends in person and having fun. The skills they learn in college like learning to get up on time, work under pressure, wait for your turn, learn new skills and upgrade them are useful in the future. They have to learn how to work in a team, which is often done while working on college projects. Each one has to do their part and if one doesn’t, then the project gets affected. Sometimes, you have bullies in the group, who throw their weight around and take advantage, which is seen later in life in workplaces too. There are also mentors who are bullies and toxic, who believe that shouting is the only way to get work done, which is also seen later on the job. Students learn all about how to cope with such situations in college and it stands them in good stead when they deal with the outside world. It is why their social life is so important when they are in college.
What have been some of the mental challenges for college students during the asocial pandemic period?Since they were at home and unable to meet people, it led to a surge in anxiety, depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There was an increase in aggression too during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is also a time when there is a hormonal surge for which physical activity in the form of exercise can help but even all of that stopped. There has been a slight increase in addiction to drugs and alcohol too.
For those who were in junior college and wanted to get into a professional college or a particular college of their choice, there has been a lot of uncertainty about how they will be doing their course. It led to a lot of anxiety. However, unfortunately, the part that has sustained them has been that the whole world is in the same situation and there are lakhs of children out there facing the same problem, so they are not singled out.
There has also been access to so much social media. They land up being on the internet for a long time, including watching pornography. There is also body shaming because they have been at home and haven’t been going out and have put on weight and people aren’t too kind to them and that ends up being terrible for a person's self-esteem.
The kids with special needs or a disability who are going to college have been most affected. With the lockdown, it is extremely difficult to get whatever experiences they need through a computer. They need a person to interact with. For a while, there are going to be these students who are going to be at a disadvantage. Have college-goers been missing the sense of community that comes from extra-curricular activities such as annual festivals, film club, book club, etc.? Being a part of clubs in any form is useful because you tend to interact with people and humans, by and large, should be social animals. But because of Covid-19, socialisation has become less. Very often, one has to work towards being social and your body has to be allowed to be trained to be social and occasionally that does not happen. When a student goes back into a social situation after they have got used to being alone, it can cause anxiety. It can even happen when they are trying to interact with friends on a personal level.
What are ways that students can keep busy till the uncertainty prevails and how can they prepare for in-person college?Physical activity is known to help at every age group. In addition to all the physical benefits, it helps channelise a lot of negative energy and reduces the possibility of inappropriate behaviour. Students have to understand by themselves that eventually they will have to socialise and that there will be ups and downs. There will have to be the process of acceptance that “Okay, I am going to feel anxious but for me to get over it, I have to do more of the thing than less of it”. For example, if a person is scared of the dark and will never go into a dark room, they will never get over that fear of darkness but if they do go into the room, then they will get less and less frightened of it and overall the fear will go away. Now if a person is frightened of getting out of the house, the more they go out, the less they will be frightened about it and very often that is all that is necessary. For those getting ready to go back to college, it will help if they visualise themselves getting into the college situation, feeling the anxiety but allowing yourself to cope with it. Imagination is very often much worse than reality and you realise that you may not be as anxious as you thought you would be. How can colleges and teachers help students adjust to all these changes?College is a place to get an education and now that that education has been affected, the teachers may rush with what they have to do. On the other hand, students will be a little rusty and will take time to get into the normal groove again. Teachers will have to be available and watchful and if they see signs of mental health illness, they should take the necessary steps to help.
How important is it for colleges to focus on counselling going forward? Most colleges would have access to counsellors now. So, it would be a good idea to have an orientation for the students when they go back to college for in-person classes. Start by talking to them about mental health. If they have the symptoms of anxiety, depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), they have to be told that it isn’t a sign that you are weak if you seek help and that people aren’t going to laugh at you.
Also Read: How parents and students can prepare for in-person classes in the new normal
12 August,2022 04:29 PM IST
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