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Do student helplines really help?

JAM finds that students in distress are likely to be put on hold.

Every year, close to board exam reults being announced, there are sad stories of students ending their lives, anticipating failure. Unable to confide her darkest fears to family or friends, 15 year old Anshita Tiwari became one such recent statistic.

In response, social workers and well-meaning organisations have set up ‘helplines’ for counselling distressed students. But do these helplines really help students who are in crisis mode? We at JAM phoned several helplines, posing as an anxious student, to evaluate their effectiveness.

First of all, the immediate response from most helplines was “call back later”. The reason given being that they operate during certain fixed hours only.

For example, when we called up MD Shah College’s Free Counselling Centre at 1.30 pm, the counsellors had left for the day. We are told to try between 9 am and 12.30 pm. The next day, when we called the centre at 11.30 am we are told that vacations are going on so we need to call back after 1st of June.

Some of the counsellors tell you to fix an appointment at their centre, pay a specified amount of money and then avail of their services. The person who answers at Drishti, a counselling centre, informed us, “Bring your academic papers, take an appointment, pay Rs 500 …” As this proposal is laid out, you’re put on hold to listen to some serene music in the background. The depression goes up by a notch.

Some counsellors are extremely curt and direct. At Sukoon Counselling Centre I’m advised that with 57% in my ICSE, I should stop dreaming about Science (“Khote sapne dekhna chodo”) and instead think of taking up vocational courses at Sophia’s or SNDT University. “What has happened, has happened. Now face the reality.” You are left more desolate and still have not found any answers.

Still hopeful, we call up a doctor whose mobile number was tracked down through a google search. The doctor takes our call, patiently listens and gives basic first aid. “Don’t worry beta…. Just relax…” Then you will be extended an invite to visit him personally at his clinic.

What anxious and depressed students really need is someone who will listen without being judgemental. Aasra, was the only centre which actually met this criteria. We called them posing as an HSC student fearing failure, and the volunteer (Reena) was on the line with us for a whole hour.

She was the only one who actually asked tough questions (“Do you feel suicidal?”) and was both empathetic, as well as successful in instilling positive thoughts. The hitch – they are open only from 3 to 9!

Aasra – 2754 6669
Samaritans – 2307 3451
Sukoon Counselling Centre – 2367 5688/ 2362 1072
Mind Masters – 2407 4730/ 93234 74730
Deep Ganga – 2840 1598/ 94222 79050
MD Shah College Free Counselling Centre – 2882 4860

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