The pandemic and the consequent curbs on social interactions have had a marked effect on the mental health of teens and youths worldwide.
With educational institutions -- schools, colleges and universities -- reopening in a staggered way across Bangladesh, some students are returning to physical classes, having experienced some level of stress and anxiety -- symptoms of depression.
Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST) in Sylhet is one of the few academic institutions in Bangladesh to have taken an innovative and positive stride in supporting the students' transition back to classrooms from remote learning.
The varsity is offering a mental health service for its students through the 'SUST Moner Kotha' Facebook page, an online platform under the supervision of Director of Student Welfare Prof Zahir Uddin Ahmed and psychologist Fazilatunnesa Shapla.
The mental health service is available on demand for students across departments -- not to mention that confidentiality is the key to wooing the young minds.
What prompted the initiative
The unwanted deaths of Torabi Binte Haque and Asiya Akhtar, both students of SUST's Bangla department, Touhidul Alam Pratyay of Physics department, and Sabbir Ahmed of Chemistry department, during Covid have shaken the entire student community.
Not to mention the suicides of Alamgir Kabir, a chemistry student of the university, and Md Mahfuzur Rahman, an assistant professor with the mechanical engineering department, during the pandemic.
Farzana Akhter, a second-year student of Bangla department, said, "We have sadly lost some people from SUST in the past one-and-a-half years. Five of them ended their own lives, including a teacher."
"But in order to stay mentally and physically healthy in times of crisis, student advisors and teachers, including a psychologist, have been holding various sessions and discussion programmes online. We hope to benefit from the initiative," she added.
Prabal Barua, a fourth-year economics student, said, “After a long hiatus, we have started physically attending classes. If we think about the mental state during this pandemic, it can be touted as miserable."
Md Samiul Islam, dean of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman University, said that besides academic studies, students should focus on outdoor sports. "Outdoor activities play an important role in shaping the mental health of students."
Echoing similar sentiments, Zaida Sharmin, the provost of a female dorm, said that the devastation of the pandemic has emerged as a huge challenge for all.
“We all have to work together patiently to deal with such stress. It is necessary to avail various initiatives of the counselling cell to cope with any mental health issue," she told UNB.
Fazilatunnesa, the university psychologist, said, that students should not shy away from availing the mental health service.
"Our doors are open for all students. We continue to provide mental healthcare counselling online and in person. We are also following up with the students taking counselling sessions," she said.
SUST Proctor Associate Prof Dr Alamgir Kabir said, "Our disciplinary committee is working on the overall safety of students. Many students who are currently returning to campus after this long closure have come to us with mental health issues. We are trying to help them."
Prof Zahir Uddin added, “We have launched this mental health service for students. We want every student to do well in their life -- be it in their academic career or mental wellness."
SUST Vice-Chancellor Prof Farid Uddin Ahmed said, "Our teachers are on the job. We have also instructed each and every department to ensure a sound mental health for all their students."