New Delhi: Children spend most of their time in the school and that is the place where the maximum development takes place. Ensuring an atmosphere of safety and comfort is a must along with awareness about mental health. Mental health is not mere absence of mental illness, it comprises of state of well-being where a person can meet the learning potential, cope with normal stresses and are connected to community of their friends.
Mental illness in most of the cases start manifesting early signs around 15-17 years of age but majority people seek help at adulthood. If the schools are involved actively in mental health, we can halt the progression of mental illnesses by early intervention. To ensure effective mental health delivery to children a multi-disciplinary team is required, which would comprise of school leaders, teachers, staff, parents, and school counsellors.
The whole purpose of involving schools is to look for early signs and symptoms of mental illness and seek professional help if required. Also, schools help promote healthy social and emotional development of children. Resilience building, which is the ability to cope up with the negative events and adversities is also enhanced by the schools where mental health and well-being are the focus.
Schools should teach students about mental health more actively with emphasis on identifying their emotions and an open-door policy where the children are listened to if they approach any staff member. There should be a safe space identified in the school where the children can go and talk maybe to a school counsellor or a student volunteer. The teachers should also receive a training about mental health, so they know when to escalate the matters and refer the students for professional help. Even the parents need to be trained to handle their kids if they are undergoing an emotional turmoil.
Strict anti bullying policies should be in place to ensure a comfortable environment for children. Children need to be taught about mental health as its still a taboo subject and making children aware about their mental well being by organising certain workshops will help them understand the subject better.
The students should also be stressed about physical health and connection between physical and mental health. Emphasis about exercises to stay physically fit to ensure mental well being should be made. Introducing mindfulness training in adolescents can help them deal with stressors and make them more resilient. Yoga and breathing exercises are helpful as they help increase the focus and confidence in students. A confident child is more self-aware and is able to deal with the situations better.
Promote positive self esteem by supporting good decision making, assertiveness and
Schools especially nowadays when they have reopened post covid, where only online learning was taking place should focus on social interactions. Students should be encouraged to speak to their peers in the break times. There should be various academic and non-academic clubs where children should participate.
The need for forming a sense of community is a must where all students must be encouraged to discuss the uniqueness of each classmate, teachers, and staff members. They should be made aware
that all these people are together, and they form a community together. They should be made to do community building activities by highlighting the activities of everyone.
School based mental health programs are the need of the hour especially since the new and unique issues are rising every day. The teachers who interact the most with students should identify any behavioural changes in the kid at earliest, as if the child is not interacting with other kids in the class, seems very distracted, gets into fights easily, does not follow orders or is very sleepy and tired, the teacher should immediately make a note. The teacher should encourage speaking to the concerned child and if necessary, highlight the issue with school authorities so the interventions are started immediately, and we can prevent any further deterioration. Adolescent self-harm and suicides are the most alarming issues in fact death by suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-25 years of age. Bringing awareness can save lives.
Mental health issues are rising by every day especially in children and teenagers, and it is the responsibility of school to ensure early detection and to provide help, to ensure a better and healthy future of our country.
(Dr. Priyanka Mahajan Thukral is the Consultant Psychiatrist from Masina Hospital)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.