20th April, Mumbai: Over the last year, the state of mental health among university students has been a growing concern globally, with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and self-injury being reported as the most commonly reported mental illnesses. High expectations to succeed and social media are further compounding these problems. As per WHO, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. A multitude of physical, emotional and social changes, including exposure to social disparity, abuse, or violence, can make youth vulnerable to mental health problems that need to be nipped in the bud. If these conditions are not addressed, then it may impair physical and mental health and limiting opportunities in adulthood. Supportive environments in the university, family & friends, and wider community play a pivotal role in the alleviation of these problems.

Taking cognizance of this burgeoning issues, Mpower, a pioneer in Indian Mental Healthcare by Aditya Birla Education Trust, along with Symbiosis Centre for Emotional Wellbeing (SCEW), a part of Symbiosis International (Deemed) University (SIU) came together to host a two-day international conference on ‘Raising Resilient Youth – from University to Community’. This conference was supported by the Ministry of Youth Aff­airs and Sports, Government of India (GoI). Shri Kiren Rijiju, Hon’ble Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, GoI delivered a keynote address on day two of this virtual conference.

Delivering the welcome speech, Mrs. Neerja Birla, Founder, Chairperson, Mpower said, “Mental health is of paramount importance to student success and well-being. Over the past decade, educational institutions have taken piecemeal efforts to promote mental health awareness, hence there is still hesitation among students to seek help. In the wake of the current pandemic, it is high time that the education sector takes giant strides to create an environment conducive for relevant mental health interventions. Through this Conference, we have been able to break ground in encouraging conversations, and chalking out a plan of action which we are confident will help us create stronger, and emotionally healthy citizens of tomorrow”.

Dr. S.B. Mujumdar Chancellor of Symbiosis International (Deemed) University in his speech said, “Symbiosis is a health-promoting university. At Symbiosis, we look after the physical and mental health of the students. Isolation has now become a major disease in the world. We are connected through technology, yet we are isolated. Youth are the engines of growth and development of the country. We are the youngest country in the world. We have the capacity to grow provided our youth is physically and mentally fit. Universities should pay attention to the mental health of the students.”

On this occasion, Dr. Vidya Yeravdekar, Pro-Chancellor, Symbiosis International (Deemed) University, “SIU has established the Symbiosis Centre for Emotional well-being which is headed by Dr. Girija Mahale and her team of counsellors. Every campus of Symbiosis has a counsellor and that has helped our students especially during these times. Mental health is a serious concern. Higher education institutions should come together to address the growing need for strengthening our youth mentally so that they become resilient. The increase in the demand for services that support students’ mental health within universities is evidence enough for its need. Only when our youth are mentally strong will they be able to step outside the university and help the community. SIU has taken this initiative in collaboration with Mpower by successfully organising the 2-day International Conference on Mental health for higher education institutions -Raising Resilient Youth from University to the community.”

Shri Kiren Rijiju, Hon’ble Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports, GoI said “Mental health has become a global phenomenon. As society continues to grow, parallelly, so do mental health issues. There are multiple factors that contribute towards mental health issues among students particularly. The stiff competition that exists today is one of the top ones. While students could be very bright in academics, they also need to understand life from the right perspective. As India is one of the nations with the largest youth population in the world, their holistic growth is very important to keep them physically and mentally fit. Hence, there is a need for universities to incorporate mental health awareness as a part of their curriculum. I extend my total support for this initiative by Symbiosis International University and Mpower to create a policy framework for student mental healthcare.”

The conference brought together mental health professionals, educators, policymakers, and stakeholders within the higher education space from across the globe, who deliberated on initiatives and reforms that will shape mental health policy for the betterment of the community. Over the course of two days, Mpower experts were seen providing valuable guidance to more than 500 participants attending virtually. Psychiatrist Dr. Zirak Marker, Adviser, Mpower gave his inputs in a panel discussion on ‘Mental Health of Youth – Indian scenario: Focus on Indian Campuses’ moderated by Psychologist Ms. Miloni Sanghvi, Outreach Associate, Mpower. Psychologist Ms. Parveen Shaikh, Head, Outreach and Collaborations, Mpower conducted a workshop on ‘Interventions that work well in Youth’. Psychiatrist Dr. Sapna Bangar, Head, Mpower – The Centre, Mumbai provided her inputs in a panel discussion on ‘Raising ‘Gen Next’ in the Digital Age’ moderated by Psychologist Ms. Dishaa Desai, Outreach Associate, Mpower. Psychiatrist Dr. Ambrish Dharmadhikari, Head, Mpower – The Foundation was the Master of Ceremony along with Dr. Girija Mahale, Head, Symbiosis Centre for Emotional Wellbeing.