The Crusader of Mental Health

Training program in Counseling Students for College Teachers

The counseling which was earlier provided by elders in the family, gurus, religious leaders is no longer available. Teachers are not always able to identify the problems of the children in schools. Realizing the need for counseling to be provided to students in educational institutions, in 1995, the Department of Collegiate Education and NIMHANS decided to organize short term training course in counseling for volunteer teachers. A teachers training program of three weeks duration was developed. This program was run from 1995 to 2010, during which around 2000 teachers were trained and thousands of students counseled by CRC and his team. The government sponsored the program and deputed teachers for the training while NIMHANS provided the faculty. CRC was the coordinator for the training program for the entire period of 15 years. He edited and contributed to “Manual On Students’ Counseling For College Teachers”, which was published by NIMHANS.

The program was conducted for the teachers in 300 colleges in Karnataka. After the teachers became aware of mental health issues and started counseling students, the teachers started referring many cases to the doctors in NIMHANS or other psychiatrists in district headquarters for treatment.

In one such case, a student from a women’s college used to always come late to classes. When asked, she would not reply but simply hang her head. The teachers wondered if she was disinterested in studies, was lazy or was going around with a boyfriend; they complained to the principal. The principal observed that the girl was intelligent, had never been reported for any mischief and that she had a calm nature. He asked one of the teachers, who had been trained in counseling, to visit the student’s home and assess the situation. The teacher was taken aback by what she found out. The father was old. The mother was a diabetic; her one leg was affected by gangrene and she had become bedridden. They could not afford to get the mother treated in a hospital. The daughter had to cook, clean the infected leg and apply medicine, and finish other house chores before leaving for college. When in college, she would become anxious about her parents and sometimes skip classes to rush back home. She was too proud to narrate her problems to the teachers. Moved by her plight, the college faculty collected funds and arranged for the mother to be admitted to hospital and treated.

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One day, Rekha, a student in a women’s college fainted in class. The teachers took her to a nearby private hospital. The doctors in the hospital wanted to assess whether it was due to epilepsy or any other brain disease. They called her father to proceed with investigations. The father reached the hospital and started arguing with teachers and doctors. He asked the teachers why his daughter was admitted without his permission. He said that there was nothing wrong with his daughter and that the hospital wanted to make money with unnecessary investigations. He took his daughter home.

One of the teachers, who had undergone training in counseling, met CRC in NIMHANS. She enquired whether it was possible get the girl’s investigations like CT scan done for free. CRC reminded her that they had been taught during the training that fainting in adolescents could due to many multiple mental disorders like hysteria. He asked the teacher to bring Rekha along with her parents for consultation and promised to help.
The next day, Rekha came with her mother and teacher to meet CRC. On questioning, CRC found that on the day Rekha had fainted, she had not had breakfast and had walked 3 km to college. The cause of her fainting would probably have been low glucose levels in blood due to fasting. Her mother asked Rekha why she had not had anything when she had been given money for bus fare and breakfast at a hotel.
Rekha hung her head in embarrassment. She said she had been saving all the money given by her mother to give to her father. The father had suffered a big loss in his factory, which was not running well recently. A young woman employee in the factory, who was handling accounts, had gained the trust of her father; she had begun to interfere in family matters. Rekha’s mother resented this and often fought with her husband over her this. Rekha loved her father and was very angry with the woman. She wanted to help her father and started saving money by not spending on autos and on expensive clothes. She became depressed at the fights her parents used to have. CRC explained to the mother about the emotional stress Rekha was under and counseled her on how to handle the situation in the family.

The teacher went to Rekha’s house and told the father about Rekha’s sacrifices to save money for him. The man became ashamed of himself. He promised to treat the woman only as an employee and to show more care towards his family.

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Subsequently, the teachers’ training program was included in District Mental Health Program. In addition to individual counseling, the trained teachers organized activities like group discussions on good study habits, and gave talks on how to face examinations, how to improve self esteem and choosing a career. The teachers based in Bangalore formed “College Counselors’ Forum”, which meets every month and discusses problems they face in counseling students and in organizing counseling services.