It is becoming increasingly difficult for students to maintain positive or healthy emotions. Negative emotions are surfacing to the point that they cannot be ignored. Many students suppress their emotions as opening up would make them even more vulnerable. Unfortunately, in our society, the importance given to mental well-being is nowhere close to that given to physical well-being. Committing to a healing process can seem daunting and hopeless.
Having worked as a clinical psychologist at the Student Wellness Centre (SWC) with IIT Bombay for over three decades, I have witnessed massive changes in the socio-cultural environment, academic choices and pressures, belief systems, and the impact of technology on students; as well as the perception and reactions by parents. No doubt, these have been rapid and difficult changes.
Coaching for competitive exams prepares one for academia and not necessarily emotional stability. Sometimes, managing this along with academics becomes too much to handle. We have heard of several cases of young people taking extreme, unfortunate steps. Parents, too, in such cases, get confused and are unable to help much. They get apprehensive about the well-being of their children.
Of late at the SWC, we have seen many students crumbling under pressure due to multiple reasons: Bottled-up pressure to clear the JEE, which is imposed on the aspirant from every quarter; and, once past that hurdle, contending with the reality that clearing the JEE is not the end but only a beginning that leads to further pressure to perform.
Going through ongoing evaluations, a student may realise that he/she would be better off on a different career path. This realisation may evoke more guilt, lead to avoiding parents, seclusion and social anxiety, to name a few things.
Life keeps challenging us at every moment, but there are many ways to tackle these challenges. The first step is to acknowledge and understand the pressing concerns. The subsequent approach is to create a judgement-free space for conversations for the students. Being empathetic is the key.
Far from being passive recipients of such help, students must understand that avoiding problems isn’t an option. Maintaining self-control and regulating habits, and not hiding things from your parents and friends, will help address some concerns. Do not hesitate to seek help.
Students often ask: Will my parents understand this? Here, parents need to introspect. A peculiar pattern has been observed that needs urgent attention — the complacent attitude of parents who may think their role is only restricted to the competitive exam phase. But can you see your children as more than intellectual achievers? Undoubtedly, their well-being is more import than any salary “package”.
If your child reaches out to you, or the institute or college contacts you on their behalf, please listen without judging. Denial of legitimate concerns will invariably cause your child to feel invalidated. Seek appropriate help and follow through.
These days, most institutes of higher learning have a strong and proactive support structure for students. Practically all of the IITs have established student wellness or counselling centres. It remains for the students and their primary caretakers to reach out, take an active part in these efforts, and accept their share of responsibility.
This article first appeared in the print edition on March 12, 2020 under the title ‘Don’t bottle it up’. The writer is incharge, Student Wellness Centre, IIT Bombay.
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