What’s up with you?

The news of the unfortunate demise of one of our co-students was an unpleasant way to kickstart the new academic year. We invited Sangeeta Das Bhattacharya, Faculty Coordinator at the Counseling Center to clear the air on redressal and coping mechanisms available on the campus for students to utilize. Readers can also read a poignant letter written by one of Pankaj’s friends in his memory.

The Counseling Center at IIT Kharagpur was instituted on September 2nd 2009. We had lost four students to suicide in a span of less than a year. Many felt a void on campus in addressing student mental health issues. The Counseling Center was formed under the office of Dean of Student Affairs as part of an initiative to address that void, with a mandate to promote student well being and to act as a coordination center to address student mental health issues.

We now have three counselors, two full time and one part time and two consulting psychiatrists. Hundreds of students have passed through our doors. Most have been self-referred. Most have had time-limited problems that resolved in due course.

When we started there was deep reservation about the adjective “mental”. Were we implying that some of our students were insane? Quite frankly no! We are living through the neuroscience revolution. Advances in neuro-imaging and cognitive neuroscience are rapidly unraveling how the mind works. Mental, we replied, meant just “to do with the mind”.

The process of counseling, my clinical psychologist colleagues say, involves actively thinking about new strategies to address a problem, and find better ways of living. This is done in a safe confidential environment. The counselor acts as a neutral non-judgmental facilitator. Who could argue that every one of us at some point in time could benefit from talking things over with a highly trained, non-biased, mind-sherpa?

In any given week most of the cases that we see in the Counseling Center have to do with juggling activities, trying to find a work life balance, managing conflicts with peers, managing conflicts with supervisors, managing conflicts in romantic relationships, trying to figure out how to focus better, especially when managing conflicts from all these sources.

Certain pathological conditions that require ongoing therapy, such as bipolar affective disorder or unipolar depression, can appear in the twenties. The most inspirational experiences I have had at IIT-Kgp have been in the past two years, watching some remarkable young men and women learn to cope with a chronic medical condition and march out of IIT-Kgp with their degrees, ready to conquer the world.

Sadly, this semester we lost a very bright, talented young man to suicide. Pankaj’s death gets us to rethink. There is still a lot that we can and must do as a community to prevent suicide.

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