Emotional health issues are becoming increasingly common among college students in India. Students suffering from depression are reported to miss classes more frequently than their non-depressed classmates, and to have feelings of disengagement. For those facing emotional issues, the transition to college life can be challenging. From newfound freedom to the rigors of college-level coursework and everything in between, pressure and stress can take a toll on the mind.
Mental wellness is a vast subject. But to provide a bird’s eye view, here are a few mental conditions and illnesses that students should be able to identify and get help for. Left untreated, these issues can become debilitating, or even life-threatening. But remember: you’re not alone, and help is always available.
Depression and Suicide
In 2015, the official student suicide count in India was 8,934, excluding the number of attempted and unreported suicides. Depression was a contributing factor in many of these cases.
According to a 2012 Lancet report, India has one of the world’s highest suicide rates for people between the ages of 15 and 29. One of the main reasons cited for this is that college students struggle to cope with the constant pressure of academics and examinations, and heightened expectations from their parents when it comes to the topic of their future careers. This is compounded by the fact that there is a significant shortage of mental-health professionals in India.
In the past year, mental illness has become an issue of such national concern that Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his “Mann Ki Baat” radio speech on March 27, 2017, urged Indians to talk openly about things like depression, and seek help from professionals when required.
The solution, to a large extent, lies in raising awareness about mental health issues and the stigma surrounding mental illness in schools and colleges across the city. In addition, mental health and wellness should be made a compulsory subject in every school curriculum. There are many 24x7 suicide prevention hotlines in Hyderabad, which all students should know about.
Stress and Anxiety
Some of the key causes of stress and anxiety in college students include:
Living away from home. For most Indian students, college is the first time they have lived away from home for a significant period of time, frequently in hostels and unfamiliar environments. Even though most students eventually get used to the change, it contributes to increased stress levels, especially during exam time when parental support is only available over the phone.
Academic hurdles and anxiety during exams. This may be the most common long-term cause of stress for college students. In India, students are conditioned from an early age to be over-competitive and over-achievers. When they struggle hard but fail to achieve the desired results, this can cause a lot of undue stress and anxiety. Many students face anxiety before or during major exams. These symptoms can often manifest in the form of panic attacks, which include episodes of the heart racing, sweating, breathlessness, feelings of nausea, lightheadedness,
chest pain, and fear of losing control.
The following techniques can help keep anxiety at bay:
Practice relaxation techniques. Taking deep breaths, practicing yoga or meditation, or squeezing a stress ball can all help reduce anxiety.
Maintain a proper diet. Eating sufficient regular meals and avoiding too much caffeine can alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety.
Get enough sleep. Research has shown that not getting enough sleep can impair one’s memory and reasoning abilities, which in turn can lead to increased anxiety.
Exercise. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a day can release tension and minimise stress levels.
Develop hobbies. Developing hobbies outside of the academic environment can be a very constructive outlet for releasing stress and anxiety.
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Alcohol and drug abuse are on the rise in colleges in India. Reasons for this include increased freedom with little or no parental control, peer pressure, easy access, academic pressure, stress, and feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy.
Colleges in India should hire counsellors to help students cope with stressful situations and peer pressure. Students should also be educated about the harmful physical and psychological effects of alcohol and drugs.
Dr. Anjali Rachel Khanna
Owner of NGO Stuti Foundation and Serenity – anxiety and depression support group