Screening, counselling, exercise in IISc, IIT, IISER’s plans for mental health support for students

IISc Bengaluru screens students; IIT Roorkee, Indore hold psychometric tests. Several have counsellors or observers in every hostel.

Screening, counselling, exercise in IISc, IIT, IISER’s plans for mental health support for students IIT Delhi organised a workshop on mental health along with Ministry of Education to discuss practices across other IITs, IISERs and others. (Image Source: IIT Delhi Youtube channel)
Sheena Sachdeva | Jun 1, 2023 - 1:03 p.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bengaluru screens every student to arrive on campus for mental health, has three psychiatrists with MPhil in psychiatric social work living in the hostels and four psychologists on campus to provide support, Anil Kumar, dean student affairs at IISc Bengaluru, said at a workshop on mental health organised by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi on May 30.

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IIT Roorkee and IIT Indore do psychometric profiling of all students entering campus and follow up if the tests flag a problem. Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Mohali has a peer mentoring programme and is also engaging the services of non-profit organisations to speak to students.

Technical institutions, especially the IITs, have seen sharp uptick in student suicides with eight dying by suicide in 2023 alone. This has prompted the education ministry to also organise a meeting with school and higher education officials to address issues of mental health and discrimination. The matter also came up in the IIT Council meeting where the IITs resolved to engage more counsellors and set up wellness centres.

Saumya Gupta, joint secretary, incharge of technical education, ministry of education, had joined through video conferencing and said: “We request a system which is standardised and works on its own where every student finds his/her voice and doesn’t hesitate to approach peers, seniors and leaders, and [through which] weak spots are identified.”

The most controversial of all suicides has been the death of first-year BTech students, Darshan Solanki, at IIT Bombay in February, following which his family and a section of students had alleged widespread caste-based discrimination on campus. That case led to the arrest of another student and the police has dismissed caste discrimination as reason for suicide. The workshop didn’t discuss discrimination at all. Data obtained through a right to information application shows that 16 IITs lack functional cells for students admitted through reservation for students from historically-marginalised Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribe and Other Backward Classes (SC, ST, OBC).

IIT Delhi’s workshop was attended by directors and deans of student affairs from across technical institutes including IIT Kanpur, IIT Bombay, IIT Goa, IIT Ropar, IIT Kharagpur, IIT Gandhinagar, Birla Institute of Technology and Sciences (BITS) Pilani, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) Delhi, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi, IISER Bhopal and XLRI Jamshedpur.

Inclusion and prior problems

“We as higher education institutes celebrate performance and encourage students to excel. All our classrooms have diverse people where we need to provide an inclusive environment for students,” said IIT Delhi director Rangan Banerjee, in one of the few instances where the subject of inclusivity was addressed. “We would like to enable a system to support every student who comes to us. For a good institute, it is a prerequisite to not only look at competition but also cooperation.”

Kumar said that many students “are bringing the problem with them” to the campus. “Problems like childhood abuse or psychological disorders are not developed in our institutions but get triggered in the institutions. Thus, we need to have a mechanism to address this at an early stage,” he added.

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IISc, IIT, IISER: Screening students

Many institutes struggle to identify students who need help.

IISc Bangalore set up a wellness centre four years ago but found that few students were voluntarily accessing its services. “We realised that students were not willing to speak due to confidentiality which led to getting more resources in. Now we have a total of three psychiatrists with MPhil in psychiatric social work who stay at students hostels along with fours clinical psychologists,” said Kumar. Data gathered from screening students is analysed and students shortlisted on the basis of it and offered assistance. “We are not aware of how many cases we have defused through all the intervention,” said Kumar. The institution, judged to be the top university in the country, is also adding online mental health services to its resources.

IIT Indore’s psychometric profiling isn’t always readily accepted by students but has helped identify those who are struggling. “There are arguments from students where they consider it a breach of privacy. But it also helps in the health check up of every student,” said its dean, student affairs, Srivathsan Vasudevan.

IIT Bombay conducts a general mental health survey for first-year students and categorises them based on their responses. The institute is developing a questionnaire for all years, said Shaukat Ali, a counsellor at IIT Bombay’s Student Wellness Centre. He added that the social stigma attached to mental health issues is a major problem the institute faces.

In 2022, IIT Roorkee’s wellness centre launched a bio-feedback therapy tool. “The biofeedback helps people understand what type of physiological changes are happening when they do different types of relaxation activity and check through their historical data and parameters which can be treated accordingly,” said the spokesperson from IIT Roorkee.

“Institutes need to closely identify students who are struggling and further understand their needs,” said Sudhirkumar Barai, director, BITS Pilani. He stated that communication is most important and faculty should be non-judgemental and empathetic.

Counselling and interventions

Similar to IISc’s strategy, IIT Roorkee has 14 “wellness secretaries” and every block of hostels has a person observing the emotional and psychological behaviour of students. Its wellness centre has eight counsellors. The institute also screens students before and after assessments.

IISC is preparing a standard operating procedure for students on mental health and overall wellness.

IISER Mohali has set-up a peer mentoring system in which senior students mentor first-year students, added Dipanjan Chakraborty, dean student affairs. He added that the senate has mandated zero-credit physical education courses for first-year students. The institute is also planning to secure the assistance of social workers from non-profits to talk to students. “We have also got the services of YourDost in February 2023, an online counselling service, and wherever intervention is required, the platform arranges for psychiatric counselling. Through this, the number of sessions dramatically increased with many students coming back even after the fourth session,” added Chakraborty.

IIT Indore is planning to expand its panel of psychiatrists. The wellness centre has three verticals: self-help and counselling, crisis control with psychiatry and outreach activities and sensitisation, said Vasudevan.

BITS Pilani started its mental health wellness services in September 2021 in collaboration with MPower. It also trains students and faculty on dealing with mental health and psychological issues. Barai emphasised on mental health workshops in regional languages. The campus also has a policy on gender diversity and inclusion.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help, AASRA has a list of resources here:

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