Navigating Turmoil: A Closer Look at Recent Changes to Mental Health Services at IIT Madras

One would think that an institution, especially one of national importance, would guarantee that the majority, if not all, of its members, keep their minds as healthy as they are sharp. However, the series of unfortunate events – four terrible cases of suicide in duration as short as three months- seem to leave everyone, both inside and outside the campus, questioning the true mental health status and the mental healthcare availability at IIT Madras.

The loss of a dear one is a huge blow to a family. Similarly, the loss of so many precious students has left the institution shaken and scrambling to make a better and safer environment for the next generation of leaders, academics and achievers. The institute witnessed a flurry of activities and changes in the field of mental health at IIT Madras. However, amidst these efforts, the sudden decision to dissolve the current wellness centre and replace it with psychologists from a third-party outsider has caused much controversy and raised questions about the administration’s decision-making process.

The Mitr and Saathi and the Wellness Centre conducted numerous activities and workshops to address the issues at various levels. Student volunteers and psychologists/counsellors worked hard to prevent further tragedies. Even the administration got involved in conducting mandatory surveys, hiring third parties to organise gatekeeper training, regular visits by psychologists to all hostels, providing round-the-clock mental health facilities, setting up the behappy website and introducing Kushal meetings to strengthen the bond between faculty advisors and their advisees.

Unexpected Changes

Amidst all the above activities in the fall semester of last year, an email dated November 16, 2023, was sent out by Professor R. Sarathi, the Wellness Coordinator, outlining some new changes and initiatives. These changes included mention of a restructuring process, supposedly based on student feedback and media reports. However, it later emerged that this decision had already been made without any discussion or student involvement. This unexpected move at such a sensitive time caused unrest among the student body and distressed those who were working with the dismissed psychologists. To make matters worse, almost a week prior to the announcement, students who were availing of the wellness centre’s facilities were informed that the current psychologists would be dismissed, leaving many feeling blindsided and betrayed.

Impact and Backlash

Even organisations like Mitr and Saathi, who have been at the forefront of promoting mental health on campus, were caught off guard by this decision. Mitr immediately reached out to the authorities and requested several meetings to discuss the matter. In addition, they solicited feedback from students via email. They received an overwhelming number of nearly 175 responses, most of which were strongly opposed to the closure of the old wellness centre. Students emphasised that they trusted and felt comfortable with the existing psychologists. They expressed concern that it might be difficult to rebuild that trust with new professionals, regardless of their expertise.

A few notable responses from the feedback collected:

“For people like me, we have an already established trust with the current counsellors, and suddenly, if the institute changes to third-party counselling, it may be very difficult for us. I didn’t understand the current situation, which demanded the change of counsellors. I felt like for the last year these teams are working very nicely.”

“Please just continue the same team as I know multiple people who are extremely happy with their experience and, in fact, have developed a degree of trust and comfort with their psychologists, which would take a very long time to build again with a new person no matter how good they may be. “

The old system was heavily intertwined with the other two support structures at IIT Madras. The Mitr had developed a strong connection with the Wellness Centre over the years to effectively help any student who was in need. The Wellness Centre even trained all Mitr students before they became part of the team. They worked closely with the student bodies, administration, and the MITR and Saathi teams. Their experience in the unique environment of IIT Madras provided them with valuable knowledge. While the old system may have had its flaws, it is surprising that such a decision was taken without a proper explanation or weighing of opposing viewpoints.

“Unfortunately, with the recent removal of the wellness centre psychologists, the support system of MITR has come to a standstill. We find ourselves in a situation where we are advised only to redirect students to existing campus facilities, rendering the very purpose of MITR futile. I personally feel that I am no longer in a position to offer meaningful support to my fellow mates as the Mitr head,” the email read.

As a result, the MITR team was stranded without any support. Their faculty advisor resigned, which was followed by the resignations of the head and several team members. It was clear that the removal of the Wellness Centre psychologists had crippled Mitr’s support system, leaving it unable to offer any meaningful help to students in need.

Inadequate Decision Making of the Administration and Need for Transparency

The dissolution of the Wellness Centre raised many questions about the administration’s motives and decision-making process. Many professors and faculty advisors even supported the Mitr in their fight against this sudden change. The restructuring of the wellness centre was justified by the institute’s need to address demands for confidentiality and privacy. They referred to the incident when some students had raised concerns about transparency and faculty involvement earlier in the year because two of the old psychologists were the spouses of professors at the same institute. This was even published in a newspaper article.

However, the sudden and unilateral decision to completely overturn the existing system without even heeding the pleas of the students, even though feedback clearly indicated that the vast majority of students were satisfied with the old system, has raised questions about the necessity of such drastic measures. It was also suggested that instead of a complete dismantling, a slower approach to complete improvement and a gradual change to the system could be taken, but to no avail.

The dissolution of the wellness centre and, consequently, the collapse of the Mitr team has further deteriorated the already strained relations between the students and the administration at IIT Madras. Though grievance redressal systems exist, the lack of faith in them is apparent from the protests that have happened on campus on issues ranging from students being stopped from eating food at mess over advance fees and changes to the academic structure of PhD and MSc scholars to multiple suicides inside the campus. Also, there is definitely a general consensus among students about the admin being hostile or callous towards the students. This is definitely due to decisions and changes made by the authorities which restrict or bring about discomfort or clearly ignore the wish of the majority, such as this decision to restructure the wellness centre (and not allowing food deliveries to the doorstep, the grading system for research programs, quality of food and other facilities, etc). The constant lack of justification and accountability from those in charge is yet to change.

The Situation Now

The new wellness centre with psychologists from Kauvery Hospital was inaugurated on December 1st, 2023, whose impact and effectiveness in Insti remains to be seen. Although this new system appears better on paper, it also poses challenges, such as the possibility of sudden staff changes that can lead to further distress, the lack of effective student psychologist mapping, etc. Even for students who have used the old facilities, it will be difficult to achieve a similar level of comfort with a new person.
Also, due to an external party’s involvement, the institution’s student bodies will need to build a relationship from the very ground with the new counsellors, with no guarantee of their permanence.

Even with the uncertainties lying ahead, the old members of Mitr are determined to continue supporting their fellow students despite their resignation. A recent email from Mitr gives a glimmer of hope for the re-establishment of Mitr, which will work with the new system and re-introduce support systems such as wellness circles and the involvement of department heads and hostel authorities in the field.


The lack of communication, transparency and consultation has left many feeling disillusioned and betrayed. The outcry and backlash from students, as well as the resignation of key individuals involved in promoting mental health on campus, reflects a deep-seated distrust of our university’s administration. As efforts to establish a new student-led support system continue, it remains imperative for the administration to address concerns, rebuild trust and prioritise input from actual stakeholders.

Edited by Aditi Rathore

Mani Datta

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