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This article has been written by Vasu Manchanda, a student of Faculty of Law, Delhi University.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared India as the world’s most depressing country. As per a study conducted by National Care of Medical Health and reported in the WHO, at least 6.5 percent of the Indian population is suffering from some serious mental health disorder. And, this percentage is sure to raise manifold amidst the COVID-19 crisis. It won’t be wrong to say that the country is under a possible mental health epidemic though unaware of what that is. 

Mental health is a state of well-being in which one realizes his or her own abilities, can cope up with normal stresses of life, can work productively, and can contribute to his or her community. It is an essential and integral component of health. It is more than just the absence of mental disabilities or disorders. 

According to Section 2(s) of the Mental Health Care Act, 2017 (“the Act”), mental illness means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence. 

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Multiple psychological, biological, and social factors judge the level of mental health of a person. It can be affected not only by the ability to manage one’s thoughts, behavior, emotions, and interaction with others, but also by social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental factors, namely, social protection, living standards, national policies, working conditions, and community and social support systems. Further genetic factors can also play a major role. 

Mental health hardly finds a place in any political parties’ manifesto, nor is it considered a real disease by the majority of the populace in India. It is usually retorted as by asking one to – be positive. And, is often mistaken as lunacy.  

How can law students make a difference?

The first and foremost thing that’s required of law students is being legally aware of the issue. And, then, spread awareness and sensitivity about the same. Fortunately or unfortunately, unlike the previous generation which struggled against the Britishers, Nazis, or their state, the present generation’s struggle is with their thoughts. We don’t need to seek freedom from any external factor but ourselves. We are prisoners of our thoughts, insecurities, and fear of failure. 

Every year hundreds of students studying at top engineering, medical, and management colleges give up their life. While some cases are reported by the media, some are not. The age-adjusted suicide rate in India, per 100,000 population is 21.1. Though an attempt to commit suicide has been decriminalized by Section 115 of the Act, finding its cause is not anyone’s legal or moral responsibility. Not even the state’s. The society judges and sympathizes with someone suffering from a mental disorder, however, it doesn’t bother to heal or feel his or her pain. While a victim of a physical accident is immediately rushed to a hospital, no heed is paid to a victim of mental illness, such as someone undergoing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and/or negative thoughts. 

While the present generation is somewhat a product of flawed education policies, materialism, disruptive political scenario, failed economic policies, and now COVID-19 crisis, it is pertinent to note that the damage done is not beyond repair. Law students, though battling with the issue themselves, especially in the present state-imposed or self-imposed lockdown, can extend a helping hand to those in need and also to those who might not acknowledge such need. They, with their knowledge on vast subjects of law, including the right to equality, the right to live with human dignity, and laws governing mental health, can act as catalysts in spreading mental health awareness in India. 

A few plausible suggestions to normalize mental health concerns and remove the stigma attached to it are as follows: 

Firstly, law students can form a mental health society just like there are debating, English literature, dance, dramatics, and music societies, among others, in their respective colleges or universities. The same can be headed by a few well-composed professors. Even Head of Departments or senior professors can lend a helping hand by becoming a part of the core committee along with the students. The society can act as a catalyst to change students’ perceptions concerning mental health illnesses. Society members can conduct seminars and/or call motivational speakers to talk about their journey of battling depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. Colleges can also try and reach out to celebrities who’ve been a patient of mental disorder. They can also tie-up with clinical psychologists, therapists, and mental health professionals to conduct seminars and/or therapy sessions with students, faculty members, once or twice a week in college and the rest of the times at the therapist’s clinic, if need be. According to Section 23(1) of the Act, any person with mental illness has the right to confidentiality in respect of his mental health, mental healthcare, treatment, and physical healthcare. The members of the society should apprise students about their right and ensure that the same is not infringed by any third party.  

Secondly, the members of the society can also volunteer to conduct such sessions at other colleges, schools, and tuition centres. They should try to sensitize as many people as they can through social media or other forms of marketing. As students seek sponsorship for their fests, free of cost promotions should be provided to organizations providing mental health awareness or conducting clinical therapy sessions and/or camps to enhance their demand and spread awareness about the same. Annual surveys, reports, and guidelines to combat mental health illnesses in the college campus can also be released by the society members. However, it is pertinent to note that as per Section 99(1) of the Act, professionals conducting research need to obtain free and informed consent from all persons with mental illness. 

Thirdly, a few samaritans who are willing to extend an ear to someone’s problems, anonymously, if need be, should leave their numbers or mail IDs with the admin office, examination centre, or library. And, share the same on the notice board as well for a better reach. Social media campaigns or pages can also be initiated to share posts about mental health as freely as memes are shared on such platforms. Further, like Delhi University’s debating circuit, something like mental health peer network can also be formed and run by the students. Official Whatsapp groups can be formed by the society members, connecting people experiencing mental health issues with one another and with the therapists as well. It should be as normal as bringing like-minded people working on a cause, together.

Fourthly, society members or volunteers can also tie-up with old age homes and hospitals to conduct such seminars and sensitize people over there. Just like legal aid society drives, visits can be paid to hospitals, dispensaries, and old-age homes to address their psychological needs and apprise them of the mental health rights guaranteed under the Act. As per Section 27(1) of the Act, a person suffering from mental illness is entitled to receive free legal services to exercise any of the rights guaranteed under the Act. Efforts should be made by the society members to arrange free legal services to any person suffering from mental illness.

Though volunteering and making donations should ideally be pro bono and not quid pro quo, considering the marks-inclined education system and materialism that is deeply ingrained in our society, mere volunteering without an addition to their CV might make volunteers fall prey to mental health issues themselves. 

Thus, it is suggested that in return of volunteering, the colleges should give them credit points, a letter of recommendation for their higher studies or job, fulfil their mandatory work experience or internship requirement, give marks for attendance, and/or add to their internal marks.
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Fifthly, professors can also reach out to students beyond lectures and help students confide in them. The student-teacher relationship should not only be restricted to teaching and studying. Professors can become a part of student’s Whatsapp groups and share their insights on mental health in a colloquial manner. It is pertinent to note that mental disorders can deeply affect the learning capacity of a student. Stress and anxiety caused due to studying various statutes, case laws, meeting deadlines, examination, etc. should be addressed at the earliest. 

Sixthly, it is suggested that mental health awareness should become a part of the curriculum or an optional subject. It is pertinent to note that a law student undergoing a five-year integrated law course at National Law Universities and other law colleges writes around sixty research projects, publishes innumerable articles/papers, does around ten internships on an average, and takes part in moot-courts. It is suggested that if even one of these research projects, internships, or publications concern mental health issues, a lot can be achieved. 

Seventhly, considering the rising attrition rate at corporate houses, law firms, and litigation chambers owing to increasing stress levels among recent law graduates, therapy sessions like mandatory human resource department’s activities should be conducted often. Big law firms should consider having a therapist or clinical psychologist on a payroll basis to address the rising mental health issues among the partners and associates alike. Law colleges should assess the firms or lawyers coming for placements on such grounds. It is pertinent to note that top law colleges in India are in a position to negotiate where their students would or would not intern/work depending upon various parameters such as work-life balance, pay scale, opportunity to grow, etc. Focus on mental health concerns of associates should be one of the parameters too. Alumni of law colleges should assist the colleges in conducting surveys at their firms and give an honest and transparent report about stress and anxiety levels among associates. 

Eighthly, volunteers or members of such mental health societies in colleges should collaborate with NGOs that deal with mental health issues at the national level, assist them in conducting surveys, and making reports within the purview of the Act. Alternatively, a mandatory internship requirement for students, at such NGOs, can also be made a part of their college curriculum. 

Ninthly, online petitions can be signed like it was signed in case of animal brutality when a female elephant was killed by a few miscreants in Kerala. More and more people can be reached through social media. The policymakers can be made aware of the need to release some mental health guidelines or pass a law to mandate the requirement of a clinical psychologist or therapist at all schools, colleges, offices, and other organizations. 

Tenthly, virtual internships can be offered by the society to students to write blogs, articles, research papers, and make reports on persisting mental illnesses among the populace. By leveraging technology for a good cause, law students can have a far better reach in today’s time and can affect lives beyond imagination. The aim of such virtual campaigns or internships should be to promote the availability of and access to cost-effective treatment of mental disorders at the primary healthcare level. Services offered by NGOs, dispensaries, and clinical psychologists that the college has collaborated with can also be promoted this way.  

According to Section 18(1) of the Act, every person has a right to access mental healthcare and treatment from mental health services run or funded by the appropriate government. Law students through such virtual internships should apprise more and more people of their right to access affordable mental healthcare. 

Eleventhly, the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) should take into consideration the mental health of students and teachers as one of its parameters in assessing law schools at the national level. The current parameters based on which assessment is done are – teaching, learning and resources, research and professional practice, graduation outcomes, outreach and inclusivity, and peer perception. Mental health should be given equal weightage, if not more.  

Further, law students interested in interning or working as legal content writers should cover issues about mental health illnesses and ways to combat the same in student-run newsletters, journals, and blogs. It is only when such issues without any stigma attached to them, are talked and written about freely, more and more people would get aware of them.  

Law graduates should also reach out to their alma mater to contribute to the cause. The way they do to deliver weekly lectures on contemporary legal issues, recruit new hires, judge moot court competitions, and/or receive accolades. 

While the above-mentioned suggestions may apply to medical, engineering, management, and other graduate, and post-graduate colleges as well, the reason why the hope of a better tomorrow is bestowed upon law students is because it is felt that law students of today have the potential of becoming the policymakers of tomorrow. And, irrespective, someone needs to take the lead so that others may improvise and follow. So, the question in the mind of the readers should not be “why law students?”, rather it should be “why not law students?”

After all, some of the most dynamic and visionary political leaders around the world, such as Nelson Mandela, M.K. Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama, were students of law only at some point in time. 

Student elections at Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University, among other colleges, are world-famous for the leaders that they’ve produced. Probably the independent student candidates or student organizations should include mental health awareness and treatment in their manifestos.

Mental Health is of the stature of an epidemic in India. As per the WHO survey, the mental health workforce in India (per 1, 00,000 population) comprises psychiatrists (0.3), psychologists (0.7), nurses (0.12), and social workers (0.07). Such initiatives by law students can add to the social workforce and raise awareness among the masses about the rest, thus, raising demand for clinical psychologists, therapists, and mental health professionals eventually. 

The freedom struggle from one’s thoughts needs to begin now. Till the Ministry of Health and policymakers issue some guidelines or action plans to combat mental health disorders and make Indians less depressed, the future policymakers need to do their bit before it’s too late.  

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