The matter of student suicides is a real threat that educational institutes must cope with proactively. Recently Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur has taken to turning off the power for an hour every evening. This is not to cut costs or save electricity, but to encourage students to take a break from increasingly secluded hostel lives driven by virtual lives on laptops and internet, and instead come outside and socialise with one another over tea and coffee. The idea behind this is to counter seclusion and isolation which contribute to feelings of anxiety. By mid-2017, IIT Kharagpur has already seen three students, including an M. Tech student, commit suicide.
“Once the lights are turned off, all the students are expected to come out of their room. Normally those students who spend maximum time in their room and do not interact with others, they are also forced to come out of their room and mingle with others,” Manish Bhattacharjee, Dean of students affairs at IIT Kharagpur, told Quartz.
Across the country, IITs have seen a rash of suicides and attempts and depression is frequently quoted as a leading cause. According to the National Crime Bureau Report, in 2015, 8,934 students committed suicide and according of another report in 2012, the suicide rate in India is among the highest in the world, a large portion of which is in the age group 15-29. As the mental health crisis is making itself felt among students, the institutes have been jolted into taking some preventive measures. The approaches are various, multi-pronged and they aim to make student lives more wholesome, while providing ways to manage stress, the prime source of which seems to be work pressure and an intensely competitive climate for grades and placements.
It has included making parent-teacher meetings part of the curriculum and making more counselling facilities available to students, which have generally been inadequate so far. IIT Kharagpur, for instance, has a dedicated Facebook page where counsellors are available 24×7. In 2016, 3000 out of total 11000 students are known to have reached out for help over it. The institute also set up the Rekhi Centre of Excellence for the Science of Happiness last year which organises workshops and talks about the science, theory and practice of happiness and well being. In IIT Guwahati, a performance arts facility called ‘Center for Creativity’ has been opened where students can dance, sing and play musical instruments. Tree-hugging sessions and communication with alumni who have dealt with depression have also been organised and facilitated.