FLAME in the news | June 25, 2021

For most of us the past year of the COVID pandemic has meant constant worries about our own health and that of our loved ones, dealing with the grief of losing those we know, enduring repeated cycles of lockdowns, and trying to make sense of the confusing and often conflicting information on symptoms, complications, variants, and vaccines. This has led to growing concerns about the impact of the pandemic on mental health, both now and in the long term. University students are often particularly vulnerable to poor mental health and this may be exacerbated in a year during which normal teaching has been upended, contact with friends has been severely curtailed and where the future seems more uncertain than ever. For many students, home may not represent a safe environment and having to be in such a space for long periods of time may lead to worsening in mental health. There has been relatively little work carried out on the mental health of college students in India during the course of the pandemic. Our work aimed to examine mental health and its correlates among undergraduate and postgraduate students in India.

We surveyed college students aged 18 – 25 years using an online questionnaire to assess prevalence of symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as various correlates determinants of mental health. Our final sample consisted for 570 students, the majority of whom were female, undergraduates and were living at home. While a large proportion of students (55%) were in Maharashtra during the lockdown, students living in a further 20 states/UTs also responded. The mean age was 20 years. Our survey was carried out in October 2020 when the number of daily cases of COVID remained high, although on the decline from the peak in September 2020. A number of lockdown restrictions remained in place and the majority of our sample (~95%) reported attending classes online only. Of our sample, nearly 37% were classified has having major depression and nearly 28% had moderate or severe anxiety. Worryingly, over 20% of participants reporting having no access to counselling or mental health services at their place of study while a further 17% were not sure if such a facility was available at their college/university. 

Students Speak

“Stress, anxiety, overthinking etc. increased like never before. Had to consult a psychologist who advised to change my lifestyle or else may end up having depression as I already showed the symptoms of the beginning of depression!” (Postgraduate student, aged 20 y). 

“I feel extremely lonely …. I was looking forward to going on campus to meet new people but I don't know when that would be possible. I have started talking to myself and have no one to share my feelings with.” (Undergraduate student, aged 18 y). 

“I feel very isolated and very incomplete. I have lost all my energy.” (Undergraduate student, aged 18 y).

“I stay connected with my friends and family but I just feel like I've lost touch emotionally. At this point, I don't care about anything or anyone.”  (Undergraduate student, aged 20 y) 

Some tips for students to maintain good mental health

Based on the results of our study, here are some tips that we think will help improve student mental health.

  1. Ensure good quality sleep: Students should maintain a consistent sleep schedule, reduce screen time and to stop using screens at least an hour before going to bed.  As screen time increased considerably during the pandemic, colleges could also consider activities or assignments that help reduce screen time. Students should also try to exercise regularly and do calming or relaxing activities before going to bed which can be another way to improve sleep quality.
  1. Stay socially connected: Students should ensure that they keep in touch with their close friends and relatives, either physically or virtually. It is important to focus on the quality of contact, and to spend time doing things that help in building meaningful connections with friends and family, for instance, you could plan activities to do with friends and family, such as engaging in games, trivia, or doing chores together etc. 
  1. Look after your physical health: Many of the above points such as exercising regularly, and sleeping better will also help improve physical health. It is important to reduce sitting time, ensure you eat well and avoid smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. Institutions could also consider incorporating regular physical activity in the curriculum.  
Provision and access to mental health care in India is limited, and considerable inequalities exist with respect to this. Institutions need to do more to provide access to mental health support or counselling to help students not only during this time but also in the longer term. 

Students Speak about Coping

“Take adequate breaks between study sessions or lectures; exercise 5 days a week; spend time with family” (Undergraduate student, aged 18 y.)

“I've started maintaining a diary in which I jot down all the positives in my day. I also quit smoking cigarettes since 2 months almost and didn't indulge even when people around me were smoking. I go cycling 3-4 times a week. I'm trying to get better at sharing my feelings more with the people that do care about me. It surely is getting better each day.” (Postgraduate student, aged 22 y.)

Listening to music and meditation were often reported as coping strategies by students. 


-Aparna Shankar, Professor of Psychology, FLAME University
-Ruchi Bhutada, Student – FLAME Scholar’s Program