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Matters of the Mind—Sitting Down With Archana Pillai

The world has come a long way in its perception of mental health and how it is dealt with. The month of May is widely regarded as Mental Health Month, as people aim to spread awareness about mental health and the issues that surround it. MAHE offers counselling services under the Department of Student Affairs. The department has seven counsellors led by Dr Geeta Maiya. Ms Archana Pillai is a student counsellor at Student Affairs and she has been working there for the past year and a half. We, at The MIT Post, had the opportunity to interview her, getting an insight into the issues students face and how the counsellors work to combat them.

What are the most common problems that students approach you with during this pandemic?

Due to the current situation, students are more likely to feel lonely or be in a poor mood. They are unable to engage themselves in productive activities. Their sleep cycles are disturbed and they are worried about their future. They are not able to submit their assignments on time as they tend to procrastinate. Later, this gets piled-up which again causes stress. Other issues have to do with the student’s concentration and low attention span. They tend to use their mobile excessively and are thus unable to study. These are some of the basic issues which students have been reporting during this pandemic.

How are the counselling sessions being conducted now that the system is remote? How effective are these practices?

Counselling is generally done face-to-face. When a person or a client is in crisis, they want the presence of their therapist. This gives them comfort. But now, this has to be done over a phone call or via Zoom, which has its limitations. However, at least the presence of a person who is there just to heal them will help. If their issue isn’t related to the pandemic and we have already been dealing with them before, we call them and follow up. If it is a critical case where they need support from a psychologist, we usually advise them to meet a psychologist who is available in their region. Identification of the issue is very important, as is the level of the issue. If it is mild, then it will be dealt with over a phone call, and if it is moderate or severe they would have to take the help of a psychiatrist.

With the upcoming exams, how has the mental health of students been affected?

As of now, we haven’t received students who have reported anxiety over the upcoming exams. But as we all know, the exams are going to be online. So the students will face the limitation of not having access to the faculty as they did before. When they’re on campus, they can meet the faculty in person or have a group study session. They have access to the library as well. But this can also be dealt with. They can connect through a Zoom call and have a group study session online.

                                 Image Credits: DSA Newsletter | Sep 2019

What is your advice for students struggling with productivity?

The first thing is they have to understand their priorities. They have to understand what is causing them distress if they have any. Most of the cases I have heard are about the excessive usage of mobile phones. This causes physical strain, mental strain, and is very time-consuming. They must not exceed more than four hours a day on their mobile and that too not in a stretch. Apart from that, physical exercise is required. No matter whether they like it or not, it makes your day active. Active engagement with their family or socialisation is a must. There are limitations now, but we must spend some quality time with our parents or others through video calls. They should read one book, aside from academics, and make a goal for completing it. They can also do some online courses according to their interest. 

What are the main areas students can focus on to engage themselves?

There are four areas students can focus on. One is their academics or productive activity. The second thing is physical exercise or self-care. The third is their social life. At least via call, they must connect with other people. The fourth is their work. If they are finding it difficult to begin then they can start with at least one hour a day. Try to spend about three hours a day on this. Don’t make a fixed, big goal of finishing one chapter a day. Rather, take a small section of the book from which you are planning to study. Make small plans and achieve those. In each area make certain goalsin academics, relationships, fitness, and gaining knowledge. 

What does the lack of access to the outdoors do to one’s mental health? How can one overcome it?

This pandemic has drastically changed all of our lives in different ways. Before this, we all had a routine, especially as a student. Students used to go to classes. They had assignments, different club activities, and co-curricular activities. We used to have get-togethers, attend parties, go shopping, or to the movies. But we have to understand one thing, that these are not the only ways to socialise. An extrovert might be struggling a lot more with this in the initial period. But with the situation, they would have had to adapt. 

People can try different activities, which they have not done before. They can try their hand at learning different art forms. They can start reading books. All these activities help improve one’s creativity and happiness. Usually, we engage in activities which have heightened leisure, too much of which is not good. Excessive gaming, mobile use, or consumption of entertainment. We should try and engage in activities which involve our creativity, which require us to use our hand-eye coordination. It will help us feel better. We can make some constructive videos or write about our experiences during the pandemic because there are so many different kinds of activities to be involved in.

                               Image Credits: DSA Newsletter | Sep 2019

How are students on campus coping with being away from their loved ones?

The students on campus don’t have their college life or their family here. It’s much more difficult for them, but they might be spending time with their friends. Some have said that they’re taking up some online courses. They go for walks. They engage in constructive activity. Engagement is a basic element that is required. We must engage in activities which help break our laziness. A person can do three activities in a day to break that laziness. If they are engaged in productive activities for 10 per cent of the day,  it will help them improve their happiness. But they are involved in different activities, which I have heard from the caretakers and the wardens there. They are the ones who regularly check up on the students. If they have any crisis, the students also do meet us.

What are the services available for students who wish to seek counselling regarding sexual harassment?

They must inform the university authority and they should take legal support. Apart from that, when we get to know that there has been such a case, there will be a counsellor assigned to them. The counsellor will help them deal with any trauma they might face with the harassment, and they will be with them until their situation gets better. If we need any help from the psychiatric department or the psychological department we take it as and when required. It’s a combined effort. It depends on the level of severity and varies from person-to-person.

How would one go about availing the facilities of MAHE counselling services?

There are numbers available on the website. Apart from that, we have given the contact details to the student support team and all the mentors there. They can contact them. For now, we’ll be providing our counselling services via call. If they are available on the campus now, we have started meeting the students in person. If it is an emergency, as was done during the last month, we go and meet the students there.

The cases are referred to us from different departments. Sometimes the students come directly and make an appointment. Sometimes the cases will be referred from psychiatrists. Of all the universities in the country, we have one of the highest numbers of mental health professionals. We have a clinical psychology department and a psychiatric unit. We all work in collaboration at times when there are cases related to it. During the lockdown, this service was available 24 hours, and if students have any crisis they can contact us directly. The counsellors are available at all times.

  • Students can submit their grievances via the SIS portal.
    Login to the SIS portal -> Click on “Grievance” -> Submit your grievance
  • MAHE student counsellors’ contact numbers
  • Counselling support—services, grievance redressal, contact numbers.

Featured Image Credits: Teen Vogue