Saturday, December 3, 2011
CHENNAI: Confessions can help save lives. The idea has prompted Indian Institute of Technology - Madras to encourage students to share their experiences and feelings on an Online Confession Box to help them cope with stress caused by academic and parental pressures orbroken relationships. "It's not always easy to find a person you can trust to talk to at any time of the day. Sometimes you just have to hear yourself talking about the issue to somebody, just rant. At such times, an online confession box helps," said a second year student, who declined to be named.
Students can log on to the Online Confession Box on the social networking page of the General Counselling Unit (GCU) and speak out while remaining anonymous. They can also seek help from behavioural experts through the confession box. There have been three suicides at IIT-M this year, spurring the institution to launch mental health initiatives, including a 24-hour helpline manned by behavioural experts and the social networking page offering tips on how to handle stress and identify psychological disorders like a obsessive compulsive disorder.
The revamped GCU is to be named Mitr. "For several years, GCU was in fire-fighting mode, helping students in distress. Now, we are trying to take preventive measures," said GCU head Sivakumar Srinivasan.
Other IITs too have launched similar initiatives. IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi have student mentor programmes that identify senior students on whom freshers can bank on to guide and help them handle academic and co-curricular issues. It has been found that while 35% of students at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology and 45% in Harvard seek help for mental health issues, only 5% of students come to the GCU.
"This is because of the stigma attached to going to hospital for such issues. So we have come up with ideas for students to get help online through social networking sites, talks by alumni on topics, and addressing them as a group in the hostel to give tips on, say, 'How to study whenfriends keep dropping in'," Sivakumar said.
Alumni have also offered support in many ways. Raju Venkatraman of the 1981 batch, who started Medall Healthcare, has tied up with IIT-M to provide 24-hour assistance through tele-counselling with behavioural experts. "At one of our discussions in the Centre for Alumni Relations Enhancements, we asked for suggestions. One of the first to respond was Raju, who said he would help them handle behavioural issues," said advisor at IIT-M's office of alumni affairs R Nagarajan.
The GCU is also trying to get alumni who have gone through tough times to talk to students. "If an alumnus who was into substance abuse in college can talk about how it affected his life and how he overcame it, it will get students to kick the habit," said Sivakumar.
The manpower at GCU has been strengthened to include 15 faculty volunteers and five head student counsellors. They will co-ordinate with 100 students across departments and hostels. Medall Healthcare has given students and faculty the first level of training in counselling to identify those in need of help.