Published: 14th July 2020
India's researchers to set up peer counselling network, as depression, student suicides see a steep rise
In 2020 alone, five suicide deaths and one suicide attempt were reported in IITs. In the last week, an IIT Gandhinagar researcher ended her life
Following a spate of suicides by students and researchers, the research community is now considering setting up a platform to help researchers and students who are suicidal. Upon consulting a few faculty members in research institutes, volunteers from the research community have been invited to help their peers out.
"Since the time we put forward this suggestion, a lot of researchers have said that they would want to volunteer. This is overwhelming," says Sachin Batar, a researcher from IISER Pune. "We will segregate them according to geographical locations. They will be the resource people in a particular location and can help out their peers," he says. He added that the researchers are also writing an email to the MHRD asking it to intensify mental health support to students.
Psychiatrist Dr Soumitra Pathare believes that this is indeed a good idea. "Sometimes, it must be the most accessible way of actually addressing the problems. It's a useful strategy," says Pathare, who is also the Director, Centre For Mental Health Law And Policy. "I assume that someone will be training these volunteers. I presume that the volunteers are trained and are given some mentoring," he adds.
Union HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank while addressing a parliament session in December 2019 said that in the past five years, 50 IIT students died by suicide in the country. The question had come up while discussing the suicide of Fathima Latheef, a student of IIT Madras, who ended her life in November 2019. Her death had created a lot of outcry among the student community after her suicide note had named three faculty members of the institute as being responsible for harassment, leading to her demise.
Seven months have passed and suicides in IITs are still a matter of concern. A week ago, Piue Ghosh, an IIT Gandhinagar researcher took her life. There have been allegations and speculations about a rift with her faculty guide over patenting her project, which apparently led the researcher to take the extreme step.
How bad are things anyway?
The recent NCRB data tells us that 10,159 students died by suicide in India in 2018. This was the highest number ever in the category. While the number of suicides in IITs over a period of five years until 2019 was 50, 2020 recorded five suicide deaths and one suicide attempt in IITs alone. Of the persons who died, four were students, while one was a faculty in IIT Kanpur.
Most of these research institutes, however, offer counselling services to their students. However, it is not known if they functioned in a full-fledged manner during the pandemic. Earlier this year, IIT Hyderabad had recruited more psychologists on campus.