University fresher year is the time of life when young souls take the first big step towards the next phase of their lives. In the context of Bangladesh, public university students have to deal with a lot in the fresher year including ragging, seat crisis and integration problem. These often result into serious mental health issue and even suicide which affect their academic performance as a whole, writes Rassiq Aziz Kabir
FRESHMAN year is arguably the most exciting year for the life of a university student. The charms of leaving parental supervision for a roller coaster ride towards freedom are something every student wants and freshman year is the time when they achieve this freedom more or less. But this sudden transition can be equally filled with unprecedented anxiety, depression and a lot of other things which are detrimental for the state of mind. A lot of students find it very hard to cope-up with this which sometimes turns into something as severe as suicide.
Every year, a lot of students get enrolled in the universities of Bangladesh, and a huge portion of them find it very hard to fit in the new place due to a lot of circumstances. One of the biggest reasons behind this problem is due to the diversity of classmates, there is a certain level of uniformity among classmates in most of the schools and colleges of Bangladesh, but this situation changes drastically while coming to the university.
This is especially true for the public universities which are literally melting pots when it comes to diversity. There are people from every corner and every possible socio economic condition which makes it very hard for people who never had exposure to such diversity before immerse into depression. Being from Dhaka University myself, I have seen a lot of my classmates who are not from urban areas finding it very hard to cope up with the intricacies of the dominant urban upper class elite which in turn results in morbid depression and low self-esteem. This affects their academic performance as a whole.
Another main reason behind the dwindling mental health of University freshmen is peer pressure. Peer pressure exists in every strata of our educational system but its intensity maximises at university level. There is a constant pressure to go with the trend which a lot of students find very difficult to keep up with. One of the biggest examples of peer pressure is romantic love.
A lot of students never being exposed to people from the opposite gender get exposure for the first time in their university life and seeing their peer group being successful or seemingly successful in romantic relationship creates an intense pressure for them to be themselves involved in such but many of them fail in doing so and constantly gets mocked by their peer group. And a significant amount of students getting involved in romantic love have a very hard time keeping up with all the hassle it entails and many of them go through a very hard time while enduring a breakup. A few of them even commits suicide.
Peer pressure to excel in academic atmosphere can also be a huge reason behind the deprecating mental state of university freshmen. A notable example in this case is that of Torun Hossain from the department of finance at the University of Dhaka who found it very hard to cope-up with the academic pressure, tried to change his department quite a few times due to this, was constantly mocked and harassed by his fellow classmates due to his introversion and his position in the socio economic spectrum. He committed suicide last year due to all these events. This is a very alarming incident and he had to endure a series of hardship from his freshman year which culminated into suicide in third year.
Students of freshman year in public universities have a very hard time finding residence because a lot of them come from different parts of Bangladesh and finding a residence in the university town can be a tiresome process, this in turn affects their studies and their general mental well-being as a whole, the students who take up seats at the residential halls of the university during freshman year do not get rooms and they have to live in crammed places with a lot of people. As a result, they cannot concentrate on their academic activities and go through a lot of mental trauma in the process which is evident from the academic performance of students living in residential halls during freshman year.
A very big cause behind the increasing depressive tendency among the university freshman is due to severing attachments with their previous friends. A lot of friends who used to be part and parcels of their lives get admissions in different universities as a result of which their contact decreases, this sudden change in their attachment patterns entails a severe deprecation in the mental well-being and overall academic and social performance.
I have personally found this phenomenon to be very widespread and common. This is one of the most severe reasons behind depression and this in turn might take people in a vicious depressive cycle which is very hard to break, the overall academic performance dwindles. These are the most influential causes behind the widespread depression among university freshman.
Politics has a role to play behind the deteriorating conditions of physical and mental health of students living in the residential halls of universities, this exclusively is a phenomenon which can only be found in case of the public universities, as the students who decide to stay in the halls of public Universities do not get residential arrangements in rooms during freshman year, they have to stay in a confined and crammed space along with other freshmen.
Other than this, these freshmen are forced to participate in a lot of political functions to make sure of the fact that they get rooms in the halls in future, this experience can induce a negative psychological trauma in the students which deprecate their general mental well-being and many of them become suicidal in the long run, there is a very well known ‘guest room’ culture prevalent in most of the public universities of Bangladesh where the freshmen are coerced into doing a lot of things commonly known as ‘ragging’.
Many public universities have already addressed this issue and taking steps regarding this which can be cited as a positive effort in the field. Last but not the least, bullying for difference in opinion and personality is still quite widespread and it takes an epidemic form in the freshman year, a lot of students who are deemed to be effeminate or quite non expressive are bullied by their classmates belonging to the so called other end of the spectrum.
Freshman year is the most vulnerable year of university life in every possible way and the students need a wide range of support from their university authority to cope-up and overcome the struggles which are exclusive to freshman year. There is an existing stigma among Bangladeshi people regarding mental health issues which results in the overall negligence of this very serious issue in every possible social and academic sphere.
But there have been a few positive changes as a number of universities have taken steps to counsel the students who are in a very bad mental condition. An example can be cited of the department of English at the University of Dhaka. The Department has encouraged the students to write down the reasons behind their depression and put them in a box which will be treated by a psychiatrist.
Steps like this are very appreciable and similar steps should be taken by other institutions to deal with the issues.
Rassiq Aziz Kabir is a student of University of Dhaka.
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