Mental health has always been a concern for most residential college campuses. Most of us move out of our homes and our comfort zones for the first time: away from the people we know to a bunch of strangers. If you find even one familiar face in this lot, you are indeed lucky. I didn’t. How do we cope up with this? Is it easy? However strong you think you are, there are times when you wish you were back home, with people who care about you. This phase might not last long for some but all are not the same.
When I joined two years back, we received an email from a senior. This fellow-student was supposedly my student mentor on campus. He invited us for a meeting and chose a rather unconventional spot: the canopies. When I walked into the canopy, I found myself in a small group of people comprised of my batch-mates. We belonged to different departments and different schools but one common thing that held us together was this student mentor. For the next 10 months, we were part of this “Chamber of Secrets” as the mentor called it. He asked us about our academics, our roommates, hostels and everything that could possibly bother a fresher. He gave us some survival tips to thrive on campus.
Not all of us had the same experience with our student-counsellors. My friends did not attend their meetings, ignored the emails sent by their mentors. Was it because they didn’t have any problems? Maybe. Did all of them settle here so easily? Possibly. Am I too slow to cope with this change? I questioned myself constantly but did not stop attending these meetings. I remember meeting this counsellor even in March, almost 8 months after joining, by which time I had already settled in.
This is the service that I aspired to be a part of for my juniors. The moment registrations opened, I filled in. It was disappointing that it couldn’t become a reality due to some issues pending with the ‘family system’ which was in place earlier. We watched the ones who were handling this struggle with the administration to implement the system once again. It was almost our midterms of our Sophomore year. It couldn’t happen.
It is not easy to be at a place like this, secluded from the city, across fields of Bodaki and Chithera. Every day is not your day. There are days you might feel blue when your friends seem like your enemies, academics look like a burden. All you need during these days is someone to listen and tell you “All is well”. It may sound cheesy when you read it here but it helps.
After speaking to the Vice Chancellor, SNU finally has an independent Student Counselling Team – by the students, for the students. The primary objective of this team is to ensure that nobody feels lonely; that there is someone willing to listen and with whom you can strike a conversation during your difficult times. The team will be functional for freshers but it is open for the rest of the community too. Members have been trained professionally and most importantly, they are bound by a “code of secrecy”: a document that ensures that whatever you share with these counsellors remain confidential.
Initiatives like these ensure that mental health is not compromised. There’s immense competition outside and a healthy state of mind is crucial in order to survive. While coordinating these services, we faced our own challenges: administrative logistics, selecting the team and ensuring that the matter took more seriously than before. The selected team for 2017 involves sophomores and juniors, all selected through a rigorous screening procedure jointly conducted by the Student Coordinators, Dean of Student Welfare and the Vice-Chancellor’s office.
The team met the freshers batch before the freshers’ party and is already functioning with great enthusiasm. Arshi Iqbal, one of the coordinators of this initiative said “Confidentiality is our utmost priority. These services are open to everyone on campus. We might not be experts on mental health issues but sometimes you need someone to just listen and these services are just a first step”. They also aim to create awareness about mental health issues. We hope this turns out to be a successful initiative.
Counselling Team ’17: