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NEW DELHI : Acknowledging that the disruption caused by the covid pandemic has put students, isolated from their peer group and uncertain about their future, under increased stress, the government on Tuesday unveiled measures to help them deal with mental health issues.

The human resource development (HRD) ministry said it realizes the importance of identifying the concerns of students such as loneliness, isolation, stress anxiety, peer pressure and parental expectations during a time when learning disruption is at a high due to the pandemic. Conceding that students’ suicide is a big issue, the ministry said a national effort will help in averting a crisis.

At least one student dies of suicide every hour in India and overall some 10,159 students took their lives in the country in 2018, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. There are reports how in the first 100 days of lockdown, some 66 children below the age of 18 committed suicide in Kerala alone. Last week, two students in Gurugram committed suicide after the CBSE board results came out.

“Children and adolescents may be more vulnerable and may experience a heightened level of stress and anxiety due to the covid-19 crisis…hence, we felt that while it is important to focus on online education, the mental well-being of students also needs to be given equal importance," HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal said at the launch of the initiative named Manodarpan.

He said the initiative would provide psychosocial support to students, parents and families for their mental health and emotional well-being and they can also use a toll-free counselling system for 12 hours a day. Some 500 counsellors are being deployed for the work.

Authorities said the students’ mental health initiative has 10 focus areas. It includes advisories on mental well-being to schools, students and parents, a toll-free helpline, a national database of counsellors and counselling services, a print, audio and video resource centre, a platform for national and regional consultations at the institutional level for awareness and resource sharing and research on mental health. It will also provide an online and interactive chat facility to students through a dedicated mobile application.

The holistic initiative developed in consultation with mental health and academic experts will also integrate mental well-being issues with school curriculum “to address the psychosocial needs of children in an integrated manner as part of the school curriculum and processes as a preventive measure". The HRD ministry said the initiative will also help in shaping effective policymaking on the issues.

An Indian Council of Medical Research online survey conducted in June has found Indians are undergoing extreme stress due to covid. The qualitative survey had a sample size of over 500.

“People are experiencing extreme anxiety owing to the pandemic. This fear is further aggravated due to significant changes to our daily lives during the lockdown," the study published in June has said. It found that during the nationwide shutdown in India, an online survey showed that around 28% respondents said they were feeling depressed.

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