Helplines see positive shift in students; fewer report suicidal tendencies

Chennai: Soon after the Plus-Two State board results were declared Friday, helplines – 14417 and 104 – were abuzz.

However, this year, authorities say that there has been a surge in students calling up for career guidance to explore courses other than engineering and medicine along with the regular problem of battling with mental health.

At the Education Department’s one-year brainchild, Education Information Centre (14417), Project Manager Francis Joseph said the helpline has received more than 1,300 calls on the day of results and around 300 today and stated, “Surprisingly, a major chunk of the callers are from villages who want to know what to pursue.”

There were also depressed students with suicidal intentions who had reached out to the counsellors at the centre seeking help.

However, the count was lesser than that of the previous year. “There were around 15 callers with depressed state of mind for not scoring high and for not getting through: the experts have given them hope. The calls were from down south. In 2018, there were around 48 such cases and it is good that there is awareness about the helpline and hope of having a future despite bad results,” said Joseph, and added that counselling is important for the student community as they face severe challenges.

While 14417 is relatively new, the popular helpline 104 received a total of 4,500 calls. Speaking about the top queries, Head of Projects – 104, Dr Sivagurunathan, said, “Fear and anxiety, stress management, depression and revaluation are the topics that the callers were enquiring about the most.”

At the centres, two-four counsellors have been deputed to support students round-the-clock.
Observing a pattern, he said this year students who have scored less are the ones who have become vulnerable whereas in 2018, it was children who failed had sought help. “We are yet to analyse why the trend has shifted though. The option of supplementary exam may be one of the reasons,” added Dr Sivagurunathan.

Mental health advocate Jayashri Sundaram brings to the fore a critical aspect that many institutions lack when dealing with children’s mind. “Many teenagers who seek support from us emphasise on the need to have a support system and better counselling programme in school and college students to guide them academically and understand their nature.”

Even though there has been less data, Jayashri strongly urges parents not to ignore when a child shows signs and symptoms of mental illness despite their young age. “It is common that parents brush off their children’s mental state by citing reasons like exam stress as they are relatively young, but it is critical to counsel them well,” she added.

Bhavani Prabhakar