Alarmed by the rising spate of suicides by students in Kota, over 40 institutes in the coaching hub have come together to launch a round-the-clock helpline that will offer counselling, track callers suffering from depression and offer sustained assistance.
The decision to fund a helpline with trained professionals was taken by the Competitive Educational Youth Society, an umbrella body comprising over 40 private institutes, after the issue was discussed in a series of meetings recently.
Over 1.5 lakh students are enrolled in various institutes in Kota, on an average, every academic year — most of them undergo coaching for engineering and medical entrance exams.
And, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, around 45 students committed suicide here in 2014, a rise of 61.3 per cent from 2013, though not all are directly related to performance pressure.
This year, police officials here have recorded 24 suicides by students so far.
“In our meetings, we felt that coaching institutes have to introspect and change their approach towards students. While we need to be alert and quick to identify the initial signs of depression in students, we have planned to start a helpline so that students who are not forthcoming in discussing their problems can seek help,” Amit Gupta, secretary of the society, which was registered last year, told The Indian Express.
“All the institutes, big and small, and some private schools have agreed on the need for such a helpline and offered to share the cost for setting it up and running it sustainably,” Gupta added.
A similar helpline was started in 2010 by then district collector T Ravikant but the initiative fell apart after a couple of years allegedly due to lack of administrative support. “That helpline was very useful and did manage to avert several incidents. Once, there was a boy who had decided to commit suicide and made a call to the helpline from the bridge on Chambal. The counsellors managed to convince him not to take any drastic step and rushed a rescue team to the spot,” said Gupta.
“The upcoming helpline too will have similar rescue teams on standby for which we might need help from the district administration,” he said.
Naveen Maheshwari, director of Allen Career Institute and vice president of the society, said that once a number is allotted for the helpline it will be advertised through FM radio, a popular medium among students. “The idea is to reach as many students as possible. With a large number of students on the campuses it is difficult to identify those affected but once they call on the helpline we will track them. The counsellors can convince them to come over for a session or reach out to them by tracking their phone number,” Maheshwari said.
Teachers, front office staff and even security guards across institutes are being trained and sensitised, too, to identify “depressed students” and alert the institute’s administration. “Teachers have maximum interaction with students and they are best placed to identify the early signs (of depression),” Gupta said.
Dr Devendra Vijayvergiya, a prominent psychiatrist in Kota, said depression among the student community is mainly caused by “invisible pressure” from parents, the challenge to adjust in a “cosmopolitan environment” with others from all parts of the country and the “living conditions” where many stay alone in hostels or other accommodation with “poor catering facilities”.
“On a daily basis I see around five patients, all students from the local coaching institutes. In 50 per cent of the cases, there is a family history of depression. This, however, gets accentuated by the hostile environment in a new city. Surveys conducted here have shown that the level of stress is much higher among outstation students as compared to those living with their families in Kota,” said Dr Vijayvergiya, who has worked closely with the student community here over the past decade.
“Students, who have been top scorers in their respective schools or cities, are exposed to a higher competitive level here and when they find themselves slipping in terms of ranking in their class, it hits them hard. The regular evaluation process that should ideally help them improve, most often depresses them,” Dr Vijayvergiya said.