Exam S.O.S
Its been barely a week since the SSC results were declared, and already the lives of this year's 14,15,702 candidates have been indelibly marked by this all-pervasive examination. While for some the results meant a whole new world, for others, they signified the end of the world. Indeed, unless one has actually experienced the shock, denial, grief and hopelessness of failure, it is impossible to comprehend the plight of a student who has lost the first leg of the rat race.

But fear not, help is at hand. In a one-of-its-kind idea, a group of psychologists have teamed up to form Astha, an organisation that provides counseling to students facing a self-esteem crisis after poor examination results. Formed under the aegis of the Jnan Pramodhini Institute of Psychology (JPIP), Astha was conceived by Mrs. Vaneeta Patwardhan, a senior psychologist at the institute. Consisting of about 15 psychologists and several other volunteers, the organisation has established a helpline whereby distressed students may call up for free advice, counseling, or simply a sympathetic ear. If further help is needed, the student is asked to visit the Astha headquarters for face-to-face sessions with the professional counselors. Mrs. Anagha Lavalekar, whom we spoke to, believes that 2-3 sessions are sufficient to combat the normal range of reactions ranging from quiet desperation to depression to suicidal behaviour. Half the battle is helping the student cope with the stigma that society attaches to academic failure, which Mrs. Lavalekar believes is the students' greatest fear. A typical counseling session would involve commiserating with the student and providing encouragement, and then helping the student explore alternative avenues. In cases where parental pressure is responsible for much of the student's low self-esteem, a session with the parents also becomes necessary.

Astha has now been operating for two years, although they are still groping for the right channels to reach out to youngsters. In addition to briefing schools about their work in this field, they have also turned to the media this year, and the response so far has been extremely promising. All sessions are free, since the members believe that helping students at a time like this is their social responsibility. In the course of their work, Astha members have come across some startling singularities-for example, contrary to popular belief, suicidal tendencies are more common in the days preceding the results than after. Elaborating this peculiar fact, Mrs. Lavekar explains that most failures are already prepared for a bad result, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness are more likely to overwhelm them just before the results are declared. Once the bombshell has exploded and the results become known to parents and friends, most students find that life does go on, after all. The organisation's task would also be simplified if parents were more sensitive to their ward's predicament, and acknowledged the need for expert help instead of being embarrassed by the situation. Mrs. Lavekar cites the case of parents who had called the helpline for advice when their son locked himself in his room for three days following his dismal HSC performance. Recognising a serious case, Astha workers actually volunteered to visit the family to talk to the boy, but the parents declined the offer because they didn't want a scandal in the neighbourhood!
Looks like self-esteem, like charity, begins at home.
To contact Astha, call 4477691 / 4478095.
Or visit
Jnana Prabodhini at 510 Sadashiv Peth, Pune--411030

Ananya Lodaya

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