Authorities at KEM Hospital who have been entrusted with curbing suicides in Mumbai said that pressure to do well in school and relationship issues were the two most common problems cited by students aged 16 to 25 that they have counselled. Unfortunately, these distressed youngsters often do not have a strong support network within their family or friends circle, they said.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has a round-the-clock helpline – 022-24131212 – on which two women, both professional counsellors, take phone calls related to mental issues, including suicidal tendencies. They receive an average of 150 to 200 calls a week.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, Dr Shubhangi Parkar, who monitors the counsellors’ work, said, “In 2016, about 16% of calls were from people aged 16 to 20, while 80% were from those aged 20 to 40. We also get a lot of follow-up calls, which comprise 18 per cent of all calls. There is complete anonymity. They keep calling back as they can express themselves anonymously. They feel safe. Once were develop a rapport we use many problem-solving strategies.”
She added, “Two major problems that those aged 16 to 25 face are academic pressure and relationship problems. Those aged 21 to 25 cite unemployment, money problems and issues with their families.”
Dr Parkar, who has been working in the field of suicide prevention for decades, said the biggest problem for people with depression was the lack of a support network. “They become lonely and take to some kind of addiction like alcohol or drugs. In such situations one needs to speak about one’s problems with family or friends. The students who call us generally have multiple issues and negative thoughts about their future.”
As part of an awareness campaigns about depression and suicidal tendencies, officials from KEM Hospital are visiting schools, colleges, BEST depots and railway stations to reach out to students, youngsters and the general public. They will also send leaflets to educational institutions informing them about their helpline.
‘Depression among youngsters can’t be ignored any longer’
After the death of 24-year-old Arjun Bharadwaj on Monday, Hindustan Times spoke to several teachers and principals of city colleges about counselling and the ability of students of cope with stress and mental illness.
While many colleges have voluntarily hired counsellors to interact with students, the University Grants Commission (UGC) recently reiterated the need for a full-time or part-time counsellor on campus to address students’ problems.
Rajpal Hande, principal of Mithibai College, Vile Parle, said, “We have a full-time counsellor who visited all classrooms at the beginning of the academic year and is available on campus all day for the benefit of students. With better awareness, students also voluntarily approach the counsellor.”
However, he added that the bigger problem was the taboo surrounding mental health, which he said prompted students to hide their problems rather that talk about them. “More than just students, society at large needs to be open to mental health problems. We cannot force anyone to visit a counsellor but we are always there for our students,” he said.
Some principals also blamed growing isolation amongst youngsters and a growing dependence on the virtual world. “Students barely share problems with their peers or parents anymore. They instead build an illusionary world in their head. That is one of the biggest challenges the new generation faces,” said Dinesh Panjwani, principal of R D National College, Bandra. He said that improving interactions between students and teachers could make it easier to identify mental health problems. “Depression among youngsters cannot be ignored any longer,” he said.
Others said that providing emotional support could not be restricted to colleges and that students should have an equally supportive and welcoming atmosphere at home.
“Parents have become so busy with their own lives that no one checks on children anymore. While academic pressure could be a part of the problem, students very rarely share their personal problems with teachers. This why parents need to be more aware,” said the principal of a Kandivali-based college, who did not wish to be named.
Many colleges are also asking their teachers to be more alert to behavioural problems among students in classrooms. “Students are aware that help is available but are reluctant to ask for it. In such cases, if teachers are more aware and notice a change in a student’s behaviour, it will be easier to help,” said Kiran Mangaokar , principal of G N Khalsa College, Matunga. He also suggested training for teachers to help them detect behavioural changes in students.