Kamrul Hasan – a fourth-year political science student at Dhaka University – was dependent on doing private tuition as his father, a day labourer, cannot bear the educational expenses.
He went home after the closure of the university in March last year and did not take part in online classes properly as he did not have digital devices and could not meet the internet cost.
Now Kamrul (not his real name) is suffering from depression over his future.
"My father's income has almost stopped due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. My stay-at-home has put extra pressure on him and I cannot go to Dhaka right now. At the same time, I cannot apply for a job as my final year exams have been postponed for the pandemic," he said. "Now I don't know what to do in such a difficult situation."
Sumaiya Akther (not her real name), also a fourth-year history student at the same university is a jolly-minded girl. She was jovial before the pandemic. She used to take part in gossip with friends. But now she does not talk to any of her friends and is suffering from depression after passing a long lonely time.
Kamrul and Sumaiya's cases are just two of thousands of such incidents which have occurred after the closure of educational institutions at the onset of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
But the government has not yet taken any initiative, even after more than one year of the Covid-19 pandemic, for the mental health solution of the students.
Education Minister Dipu Moni, however, told the media that they will appoint 64 psychologists – one at each district. But there is no visible progress yet. Higher educational institutions have formed a psychological centre but the manpower to identify problems and provide services to students is not sufficient.
Psychologists and educationists think that lonely life, hardship, a lack of proper supervision, tension about the completion of academic life and getting a job are behind the depression and stress of the students.
They recommended producing more psychosocial manpower to create trainers across the country.
Professor Dr Mehtab Khanam, a noted psychologist, told The Business Standard that the people are becoming poorer and losing their capital and jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It directly impacts the lives of students. As a result, students are in depression.
"There is a lack of psychiatrists and psychologists in the country. It is impossible to provide mental health services to such a big number of students with little manpower. Even new training has become uncertain for the surge in infections. I don't see any hope," she said.
There is a lack of psychiatrists and psychologists in the country. It is impossible to provide mental health services to such a big number of students with little manpower. Even new training has become uncertain for the surge in infections. I don't see any hope
Mehtab Khanam further said, "Psychosocial treatment is different and sometimes tougher than other treatments. A psychiatrist must realise the mental condition of a patient before providing treatment. Otherwise, sometimes the treatment can be harmful to the patients."
There are about 300 psychiatrists and fewer than 500 psychologists in the country. Of the psychologists, many have no adequate knowledge and experience about mental health, she said.
According to a research article titled "Psychological responses during the Covid-19 outbreak among university students in Bangladesh" – which was published last year in PLOS ONE, a US-based research journal – showed that 76% of students are in depression, 71% in anxiety and 70% in stress.
The researchers conducted the internet-based survey during the month of April 2020, involving 3,122 Bangladeshi university students aged 18 to 29 years.
Another article titled "Stressors and mental health in Bangladesh: current situation and future hopes" – which was published by Cambridge University Press 10 December 2020 - said Bangladesh does not have enough psychiatrists to fulfil its needs.
Young medical graduates need incentives to take psychiatric residencies, and primary care providers need to be proficient in recognising mental symptoms and giving basic treatment, it added.
Professor Dr Farid Uddin Ahmed, vice-chancellor of Shahjalal University of Engineering and Technology, told TBS that his university is trying to identify the problems of students and resolve them.
"Actually we need more manpower to provide treatment to all the students properly," he added.
Professor Dr Shamsad Mortuza, pro-vice-chancellor of University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh, told TBS that the university has just one psychologist for 5,000 students.
"It is inadequate and impossible to identify the students' complexities by a psychologist," he said.
"The government can establish a training centre to produce new manpower who will work with the students across the country. Otherwise, we must face a difficult situation."
Mithun Kumar Saha, an assistant professor of history at the Dhaka University, told TBS that they personally helped students but there is no psychologist at his department appointed by the university.
Professor Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of the Dhaka University, told TBS that the Department of Clinical Psychology is providing treatment to the students.
"We are trying to reach out to the students to hear their problems and resolve them," he added.
One psychologist in each district
There are over 4 crore students from pre-primary to higher education level in the country. Psychologists and educationists have been calling upon the government to look after the mental health problems of students.
In these circumstances, the education ministry planned to appoint a psychologist at each district. It also planned to train over 1 lakh teachers using digital platforms. But the initiative is yet to start.
Professor Syed Golam Faruk, director-general of the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education, told TBS that they could not start the training for the ongoing lockdown.
"We will introduce the training after the lockdown," he said. "It is a very long process to appoint a psychologist in each district. It will take time."