As part of Mental Health Cell's initiative, Harshita Tripathi and Chandrika Bothra from the Class of 2022 recently conducted a survey on the state of mental health at NUJS. They received around 274 responses comprising of the undergraduate student (UG) community. The key highlights are as follows: • More than 50% of the people surveyed think mental health issues are extremely common at NUJS. • The two most common sources for mental health issues are academic and career related pressure and loneliness. • Anxiety, stress, depression and drugs and alcohol addiction were voted as the most common ways in which mental health issues are manifested at 12, LB Block. • 62% of the respondents are unsure or completely unaware of how to deal with these mental health issues. • Seeking professional help for mental health issues made a positive difference more than 50% of the respondents. • ‘Fear of revealing their mental health issues’ was voted as the most common reason for not seeking professional help. The findings in detail are as follows: Mental health is highly misunderstood in India; while going to a physician is seen as a perfectly ‘normal’ practice, focusing on mental health and emotional awareness is not seen with the same lens. The results of the survey conducted at NUJS were shockingly similar to a mental health survey conducted at another high-pressure environment – IIT Kanpur (http://voxiitk.com/mental- health-at-iitk-a-study/?fbclid=IwAR0kbHT4vsR_Rmufprh_f-3A0ayY izWupVgrjJ8j9nL6q3wRm0SxlKU_9p8). Through this survey, we aimed to create more awareness about mental health conditions and how common they are at 12, LB Block. We bring to you the results and inferences.
1. How common do you think mental illness is at NUJS?
We tried to understand how prevalent Mental Health Issues are on campus. We asked our respondents to rate the prevalence on a scale of 1 to 5. Here, 1 means that they are extremely uncommon and 5 means that they are extremely common. More than 50% of the people surveyed thought that mental health issues at NUJS fell within the very common bracket (4-5) which is an alarmingly high proportion of people. A faculty member who would not like to be named believes that this number was fairly accurate and that mental health issues are the most common health issue at NUJS. Jalaj Pandey, an NUJS student who graduated this year, believes that mental health issues are extremely rampant in college, however, most individuals either do not know or choose not to recognise such issues. He adds, “at times people going through mental health issues get isolated as a social backlash.”
2. What do you think are the major sources for mental health problems at NUJS?
In order to gauge the most common sources of mental health issues at NUJS, we asked the respondents to select what they think are the prevalent sources. While an astonishing 86% of the people thought academic pressure and career related stress was the major source of mental health problems, around 80% of the people believed loneliness and existential crisis were the second most prevalent source. In a supposedly ‘close-knit’ environment, about 60-80% people suffer from friendship issues, relationship stress and loneliness. Jehan Daboo, a former student at NUJS, believes that mental health issues at NUJS are always passed off as a regular phenomenon which they never are. Mr. Shameek Sen, a faculty member, believes that these issues are extremely rampant on campus and yet are not given the attention they deserve by the administration. Another NUJS student who would not like to be named wrote to us saying “Even though people talk about how sexual diversities exist on campus and same should be welcomed with utmost acceptance, in reality this is not the scenario. At times, people show an unbearable attitude towards non-heterosexual identities.”
3. What are the common Mental Health problems faced or seen by you at NUJS?
After having determined the most common sources, we wanted to see in which way were these mental health problems manifested. Anxiety and stress, depression and low mood, low self worth and drugs and alcohol addiction were voted as the most common problems that were seen by people at NUJS. Around 20.9% of people have faced or seen suicidal and self-harm tendencies in people at NUJS. Anuradha Ghosh, a faculty member at NUJS, believes that due to the lack of awareness, it’s all the more difficult to draw a line; the students are not able to differentiate between normal anxiety that one would face before an exam and something such as a panic attack. An anonymous respondent stating her own experience, told us that the transition from a Hindi medium school to college turned out to be particularly rough for her; what began with not being able to freely communicate with her peers or participate in class soon transformed into a constant pressure to conform to social and academic standards.
4. Do you feel you have enough understanding and information about these problems?
When we asked people if they think they were equipped with enough knowledge and awareness to be able to deal with these issues, around 33% of the people answered in the negative while another 28% said they were unsure. This figure is not only shocking but also troublesome, as even though mental health problems are extremely common at NUJS, only 38% of the people feel they have full knowledge to deal with these issues. The remaining 62% were unsure of how to identify and deal with these issues. The World Health Organization recently conducted a study and found out that one in every five Indians suffers from depression in their lifetimes, equivalent to around 120 people on campus. As a result of the stigma and misconceptions associated with mental illness, a lack of awareness, and limited access to professional help, only 10-12% of these sufferers seek help. (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/04/5-charts-that-reveal-how-india-sees-mental-health/). Even though depression, anxiety and panic attacks are often left unaddressed across populations, they can be managed very well with timely therapeutic intervention. These are not afflictions that one has to ‘suffer’ lifelong. Mr. Shameek Sen has suggested the presence of mental health first aid kit at campus. Agnidipto Tarfader, a faculty member and a former student, has recommended that students need to ‘slow down.’ He adds that there should be a greater emphasis on learning, branching out, experimenting, and on acceptance of roadblocks and failures. Rishi Nandkeolyar, a third year student and co-convener of the ADR society, adds that at NUJS, mental health issues have been normalised to the extent that people expect everyone to “just get up and move on” and if they’re not able to do that, then they are labeled as ‘depressing people.’
5. Have you accessed the in-house support systems including the college counselor Dr. Barnali Ghosh?
We then asked if people had approached Dr. Barnali Ghosh- who’s the college counselor. While only 8% of people had approached her, less than 3% of the respondents felt that seeking help made a positive difference.
6. Have you visited any other professional for your mental health issues?
Around 22% of the respondents sought external professional help for their mental health problems and more than 50% of them thought that seeking help made a positive difference. This is not only a positive result but also highlights the dissatisfaction of the majority of those having gone to the in-house counselor. When we inquired more about the selection process of the counselors and doctors, we were told that they’re selected on a purely tender basis. A student adds that he has seen depression and other mental health issues manifest in many forms at NUJS, and they are completely different experiences for every individual. While some people may choose to acknowledge them and speak to therapists and their support groups, others try to down it alcohol and drugs. Personally talking things out seems like the best alternative to the student.
7. If you had a mental health concern and did not seek help, what stopped you from seeking help?
Lastly, we asked people if they faced a mental health concern, what stopped them from approaching others for help. Most of the people cited fear of revealing their condition as the major reason followed by the belief that no one could help or there was a lack of trust in the system. Gatha G. Namboothiri, a final year student, has highlighted the institutional and administrative apathy that exists towards mental health concerns in our campus. While producing a medical certificate for attendance or exam exemptions suffices, people have had to repeatedly go and prove that they are depressed or have had a panic attack to get an exemption. Moreover, seeking exemptions for mental health concerns is also seen as an ‘excuse’ by students themselves, which points towards the sheer lack of understanding and awareness on campus.
This notable efforts by the Mental Health Cell will help each NUJS student understand that extending empathy to each other will go a long way. We thank the Mental Health Cell for this initiative.