Following is the e-copy of the handwritten letter to a student by Gita Balakrishnan on World Mental Health Day. Gita Balakrishnan is the founder of Ethos India and ACEDGE – An online educational platform especially for students and teachers of architecture. ACEDGE also announced its free course on Mental Health on World Mental Health Day.
What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dear Friends – young and old,
Writing this message to you takes me back in time to 1985, the year I enrolled for the architecture program at The School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. I was a small-town girl and had studied most of my school years in Hyderabad and here I was in the Indian capital – faced with a cultural shock of sorts.
Reflecting on those times and from my interaction with colleges and students over the last two decades of working through Ethos, I know that any student on the threshold of college and the following years would be subject to different experiences and anxieties. As you begin your college life, there are bound to be apprehensions that go with embarking on a new phase in life – a new environment, finding new friends, understanding this new academic path you have chosen, wanting to be noticed or maybe wanting to stay hidden, peer pressure and much more.
And as times go by, while you do get comfortable with some of the above, there are other pressures that step up to keep you company – pressures of performance, expectations of others and of yourself, maintaining that balance between extra-curricular and academics, sleep-deprivation, adulthood, personal problems, deciding on your future career path and a lot more. There are some of you who may come to a realization that the course you were dreaming about is not exactly what you thought it would be and that can be quite disturbing since our system does not allow for easy pivoting yet.
Also, studenthood is that time in life when we are most idealistic until reality begins to kick in and this begins happening in the later years of academic life. The burden of wanting to stick to your ideals can also be immense while sometimes the path to a successful professional life may demand otherwise. This is particularly true in the field of architecture.
But let me assure you that these possible feelings are not exclusive to you alone. Almost every one of your peers is also facing a plethora of their own pressures and is finding ways to deal with them.
Anxiety is one little tree in your forest. Step back and look at the whole forest.
Let me talk about the stresses a faculty member faces since I have been able to peek at that side as well. Any faculty member has concerns about making a difference to the learning, he or she imparts to every student in a class. Not being able to get through to even a few in a class can be disturbing. A good teacher wants to be able to reach out to every member of the class. Teachers are faced with the need to keep themselves updated with changing times – in terms of content for their subjects as well as the technology of delivering the content in an interesting manner. They are also grappling with students who are very different from their times – why even from the previous year!
Apparently, many on campus are under stress – alarming?! Not really a cause for alarm- this is true of life itself. It is essential to realize that you are not alone saddled with difficult situations. Look around you and you will find many on the same boat. There are many ways to steer this boat – reaching out and empathizing with those who need it; finding people who understand you. They could be friends, family or faculty. There could be situations beyond your control where you need to realize that it is perfectly normal to go out there and ask for help.
While a problem you are faced with may seem insurmountable at that point in time, you would know from your own experiences that tough times have also been dealt with by you and quite well.
Please realize that you are YOU and are unique – you cannot be someone else. Once you accept that, most of the pressure is lifted.