A Re-addressal of Mental Health

My friends and I often discuss how many times we’ve cried due to stress, trying to keep score- we’ve reached five times a week as a record. A great way of bonding with students I have nothing in common with is by bringing up college related mental breakdowns- everyone can relate and wants to vent about it. Facebook confession pages are far from the lascivious breeding grounds they were during high school- now it’s all about hapless young people detailing their misery over not feeling competent enough.

Changing the system of how universities in India evaluate success is a great idea, but it would have to result from the entirety of the Indian society changing its ideals. Optimism and idealism should not be confused with unrealistic delusions, however, and that change is not likely to happen soon. What the band aid solution should be right now is a huge push towards acknowledgement and recognition of mental health as a legitimate point of focus.

It’s always a jolt realising how normalised this situation has become in our daily lives– having a panic attack over exams or placements or the future, and then having another one when the realisation of how much time was wasted having the first one sinks in. The inordinate pressure on most students to perform- not well, but extraordinarily- can simply not exist without some form of mental trauma being attached to it. Add to this a mixture of daily unrelated human life problems, and we have a cocktail of dangerously explosive thoughts contained in a brain the size of a fist.

The problem lies with how we choose to address this. In a nutshell: we don’t. Us Indians love shoving everything slightly discomforting under the rug; collegiate institutions, organisations, students, professors, parents- we’re all complicit. Most universities- with the exception of a few private ones- have almost no resources for dealing with mental health issues. Basic services like the provision of a counsellor are absent. Some include cells consisting of a panel of college professors or administrative officials to ‘help’, but these are largely untrained people who could end up doing more harm than otherwise. The level of oblivious privilege and general foolishness needed to say ‘wake up early and don’t be sad’ to countless young people trapped inside their heads is astounding, yet that is what happens on a daily basis. Students are sick, but made to think it’s normal because we prioritise social status and grades over health.

Enough has been said about pressure and suicides in newspapers and magazine columns, there’s a debate on tv every time someone kills themselves. I state this to highlight the state of understanding: to counter hanging-suicides, institutes decide to do away with fans to ensure there’s no place to hang oneself from. We need proper resources to battle this, because it’s only going to get worse. Suicide is the ultimate symptom of the ugliness festering within our society, but there’s a lot more. Unhappy students grow into unhappy adults, living a life that’s essentially just a ghostwalk because they’ve never been told it isn’t normal; that this isn’t how humans are supposed to function. We need resources and we need them now- greater awareness, education, acceptance of mental health issues being real issues. Parents and educators are an urgent target because a major hurdle is the resistance they pose to their children or students wanting to seek help, leading to the common occurrence of phrases like ‘it’s just a phase’. We need trained therapists available to talk to, in the absence of which talk turns to their peers who obviously face the same issues. It may be a relief to say things out loud to people who understand by virtue of being in the same position, but in the end it turns into a huge echo chamber with the same grievances bouncing off every individual and in turn getting reinforced to a greater extent.

A lot of this may seem oversimplified, but why does it have to? It really isn’t ludicrous for organisations to invest in their students and for parents to want the best for their kids. The fact that most of these seem to be touted as outlandish ideas is the very problem, and the alternative to fixing this is moving towards a very bleak future indeed.

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