Dealing with issue of stress, anxiety in students

Updated July 17, 2019

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Non-availability of therapists on campuses can cause psychological hazards. — Dawn.com/File
Non-availability of therapists on campuses can cause psychological hazards. — Dawn.com/File

KARACHI: Last year, the death of a student forced people on social media websites, such as Twitter and Facebook, along with university/school teachers, students and parents, to talk about the issue of stress and anxiety in students.

Read: Pakistan's silent suicide problem

According to reports, when the female student reached the top of her university’s building to jump off, no one took her seriously or reported it to the administration, teachers or authorities.

There are other examples as well. This summer, a university student in Islamabad killed himself due to pressure at school. In a letter, which went viral online, the student claimed that two teachers kept failing him in class because of his ethnicity and this led him to take his life. Similarly, earlier this year in Bolan, a medical student took his own life because of the constant stress and anxiety. A news report claimed that the young man had failed to clear his supplementary exams. A few days earlier, a medical student in Peshawar also killed herself for similar reasons.

Non-availability of therapists on campuses can cause psychological hazards

Where to get help?

Students at several universities across the country, including the Dow University of Health Sciences, Greenwich University and National College of Arts (NCA), claimed that they were not aware of any therapist on their campuses. Most of them said that they talk or confide in teachers or friends.

At Habib University, a student in her second year claimed that they took mental health seriously. “We have a few therapists on board and all of them are booked,” she said.

A teacher at NCA claimed that despite the tragic death at the Beacon House University (BNU) hitting so close to home, the administration had not still taken mental health seriously.

How to deal

In Karachi, the death of a student shook many others for years. “Back in 2006, a classmate of mine killed herself. She didn’t come back to school after a long weekend and eventually we found out that she had slit her wrists,” said a graduate of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture (IVSAA).

“We didn’t know how to respond to what had happened or how to process it. A teacher spoke to us about it but nothing really happened. In retrospect I think we all knew she wasn’t well. She would often get triggered and think that people were laughing at her when they weren’t. There were a few teachers who were helping/supporting her but they weren’t trained therapists,” said the former student. A few years later, things changed at IVSAA. Students of the 2014 and 2016 batch said that during their first semester it was mandatory to have a session with the school counsellor.

The varsity’s registrar Umair Saeed confirmed that they had a student counsellor who came in on a weekly basis.

At the Aga Khan University Hospital, faculty member Prof Murad Moosa Khan said that the university had seen five to six suicides over 30 years and this led to the management to take some serious decision.

What should be done?

In some cases, students have tried to help other students too. According to Anamta Rafique Ghur, who used to study at Szabist, they didn’t have any counsellor or therapist within the university at least till she was there nearly two years ago.

Along with her friend Aiman Khan, they applied for a grant to promote mental health in universities in Karachi.

“It was a pilot project and was done in minimum budget. We decided to go for peer to peer counselling. The counsellors were psychology students at Bahria University, some who had completed their degree and some who were in their last semester but with some experience. They were shortlisted after extensive interviews and later trained by a professional psychologist,” she said while talking to Dawn.

According to Ms Ghur, one of the reasons they were motivated to pursue this were conversations they overheard in the canteen and restrooms where everyone would be like “we are anxious, stressed or depressed. With every passing day as we neared exams or final weeks loaded with essays and presentations, these talks would increase.”

According to IBA’s HR Director Mashooque Ali Bhatti, the varsity has taken initiatives to maintain a healthy work-life balance for students and faculty/staff. With various facilities available on campus i.e. gym, cricket ground, tennis, badminton, table tennis, etc, the institute provides plenty of healthy activities to release stress-inducing elements.

“Recently, the institute has pioneered a first-of-its-kind counselling programme for students, staff and faculty.

BNU’s Zaeem Yaqoob claimed that in early 2017, BNU established a counselling centre called Centre for Counselling and Psychological Well-being, whereby there is a full-time counsellor available on campus.

“The process for referral to the counsellor is simply either by faculty recommendation or when a student approa­ches the counsellor directly,” he said.

Talking about how the university dealt with the incident in November, Mr Yaqoob said: “In the aftermath of the incident, the vice chancellor held a town hall with faculty and stressed the need for being more vigilant in identifying emotional challenges of students and their referral to the counsellor, since in this particular case, nothing had been reported by faculty and neither had the student sought any help from the counsellor. Group grievance counselling sessions were held for the immediate affectees of the incident, her class-fellows and friends as well as for staff separately.”

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019