Don’t bottle it up
The importance given to mental well-being is nowhere close to that given to physical well-being. Over the last three decades that I have worked as a clinical psychologist at the Student Wellness Centre (SWC) at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IITB), there have been massive changes in the socio-cultural environment. Rapid and complex changes have been observed in students’ and parents’ academic choices as well as the perception and reaction of parents towards these choices. The impact of technology on students has been enormous.
Students are crumbling under pressure due to multiple reasons. There is always pressure to clear the JEE. Often students and parents think that clearing the JEE is the most challenging step and once done, things will be easy and smooth. However, this is only the first step, and once the hurdle of clearing the JEE is crossed, students face the harsh reality that JEE is not the end but just the beginning to keep performing well.
Ongoing evaluations have brought to light that many students realize their potential and aptitude for a different career during their studenthood at IIT and feel they would be better off on that career path. Such a realization may evoke more guilt and taking undue pressure to keep performing well. Such a realization often makes students avoid their parents and results in seclusion and social anxiety. It is becoming increasingly difficult for students to maintain positive and healthy emotions, and negative emotions are rising to the point they cannot be ignored. Suppressing such emotions, avoiding opening up to someone, and committing to a healing process may seem like a daunting and lengthy process.
Students must understand that avoiding problems is not the solution to solving them. There are many ways to tackle these challenges, and the first step is to acknowledge the problem. Talking to parents and friends will help address some concerns. The key is being empathetic towards the students and creating a judgment-free space for conversations. The role of parents is not just restricted up to the competitive exam phase, and parents must see their children as not just intellectual achievers. If your child reaches out to you, please listen without judging. Denial of legitimate concerns will invariably cause your child to feel invalidated.
Do not hesitate to seek more help. Most institutes of higher learning have a proactive and robust support structure for students. Almost all the IIT’s have established student wellness or counseling centers. Coaching for competitive exams prepares students for academia but not necessarily for emotional stability. It remains for students and their primary caretakers to reach out, take an active part in these efforts, and accept their share of responsibility.