indian institute of technology: IITs focus more on mental health as suicides rise

An increase in suicide deaths at the Indian Institutes of Technology – the most recent…

indian institute of technology: IITs focus more on mental health as suicides rise
An increase in suicide deaths at the Indian Institutes of Technology – the most recent one at IIT-Madras on April 21 – has put the authorities on edge, forcing these engineering colleges to intensify the focus on mental health.

Where intense competition to bag a seat is just the beginning of the battle, and students fight stress, academic performance pressure, depression, homesickness and even discrimination, IITs are stepping up measures to de-stress students and help them cope better.

Initiatives taken by IITs such as Madras, Delhi, Roorkee, Guwahati and Hyderabad include wellness sessions and campaigns, welfare boards, expanding the network of counsellors, student mentorship programmes, sensitisation sessions, psychological scale assessment platforms and tie-ups with external e-counselling services.
Earlier this month, IIT-Madras, which has seen four student suicides this year, started a wellness session series for its students with the support of the National Health Mission under the Tamil Nadu government’s Department of Health and Family Welfare to increase awareness on mental health.

“A wellness survey for the entire campus will be done in the next academic session. We are working with organisations, including Nimhans and NHA (National Health Authority),” IIT-Madras director V Kamakoti told ET.

indian institute of technology: IITs focus more on mental health as suicides rise

Gatekeeper sessions for faculty and volunteers to identify students with stress and help them out and expanding the counsellor network are among the other measures being taken.

At least 33 students have committed suicide at IITs since 2018, according to recent Ministry of Education data.

The spate of student suicide has been a matter of growing concern at the IITs, with the subject of mental health coming under discussion at a recent IIT Council meeting in Bhubaneswar. The council focused on the need of increasing psychological counselling services, reducing pressure and reducing the fear of failure/rejection among students.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to address mental health issues,” said Aditya Mittal, dean of student affairs at IIT-Delhi, which runs multiple mentorship programmes.

The institute will be holding a mentorship programme targeted at first-year students this year, the first since the start of the pandemic. “We currently have three verticals in the post-pandemic era: for personal adjustment, for academic needs and for early detection either related to academics or non-academics. There is a jump in the number of sensitisation meetings and open house meetings,” said Mittal.

IIT-Roorkee, which hasn’t reported any suicide in the last five years, attributes it to the many initiatives it has in place. Its Wellness Centre provides psychological assessment and interventions by eight counsellors. Each counsellor has a special training in specific therapeutic models and can cover different languages, which makes them more approachable.

Identified psychiatric cases are dealt with pharmacological management by the institute psychiatrist at the institute hospital. The hospital has 20 beds to admit such cases at the primary care level.

Student volunteer teams, known as ‘Team wellness’, also conduct various mental health programmes and workshops for the community.

“We are also looking to start new programmes – training to all wellness team members, student secretaries/council members, faculty members and staff associated with the dean of student welfare organisation,” said Avlokita Agrawal, the institute’s associate dean of student welfare.

At IIT-Guwahati, activities undertaken include mandatory counselling to all newly admitted B.Tech students; ‘Know Your Neighbours’ campaign to provide adequate social support and a sense of community, and an extended counselling support offered between 9 AM and 8 PM on all working days. Under the peer mentorship programme, every student has been assigned a student volunteer as peer mentor.

It has a welfare board that works closely with the academic section and identifies those with poor academic performance and extends support to help them in their regular activities, said Bithiah Grace Jaganathan, associate dean of students’ affairs.

IIT-Hyderabad has a ‘Sunshine buddy programme’ through which it invites volunteers from the student body to be a buddy to support the batch/peers of their department.