What's on your mind, dear child?

What's on your mind, dear child?

What's on your mind, dear child?
A significant number of school students in India exhibit social, emotional, or behavioural problems in school and society.

The psychological and emotional well-being of school students has become a matter of concern today because of the growing incidences of suicide, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Students with mental health issues lack quality treatment and care due to lack of awareness about mental health problems and a dearth of trained professionals.

The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘the presence of physical and emotional well-being’. Emotional well-being simply means mental health of an individual. Every parent and teacher wants to provide the best possible environment for the development of student health, realising the various impacts of unpredictable situations in a fast-changing world. In order to cope with the unpredictable challenges, parents and teachers focus on the physical and material features of students’ development, but forget the aspect of their mental health.

Students are confronted with various stressful life events, for which they are not prepared either by their parents or by teachers. Though some students are able to master these life challenges, mental health issues are on the increase day by day. Knowing these realities, it is very essential that parents and teachers understand the various psychological and physical stressors that contribute to the existing challenges of students’ life. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to not only provide students with knowledge, but also with graded exposure to various challenges and teach the endurance skills that they require to deal with various physical and psychological stressors.

Spot the problem

Detection of mental health issues requires professional skills, but parents and teachers, who regularly observe students at home and in schools, may be able to understand each one with the consideration of their psychological needs. There are a number of risk factors associated with the mental health of students. They include biological and psycho-social factors such as home atmosphere, school atmosphere, academic pressure, interpersonal relationships cultural environment, beliefs, social factors etc.

n Home atmosphere: Research indicates that certain interactions and unhealthy relationships within the family can set the stage for students to develop neurotic lifestyles later in life. Parents who are overprotective may hinder the children from developing adequate coping mechanisms when they grow old.

Parents who force their children to study all the time without permitting play time and other interactions create anxiety in them. Parents play a major role in shaping the character of every child. Thus, freedom with responsibilities, healthy relationships with boundaries, challenges with support and opportunities with accountabilities should be cherished in families.

n School atmosphere: Teachers, like parents, influence the psychological development of students. Comparison, favouritism, name-calling, etc can create aggressiveness, inferiority complex, helplessness and low self-esteem, and lower confidence. Pathological components such as emotional distress, loneliness and suicide have been identified as results of not feeling connected at school with peers and teachers.

On the other hand, feeling close, being part of the school and having a good peer group can buffer the effects of anxiety and depression. When students face social stressors at school such as peer rejection, peer harassment and victimisation, it can increase the psychological problems. Fostering social support and creating a feeling of belonging at school can foster good mental health.

n Academic pressure: Although parents and teachers have good intentions in pressurising students to study, the consequences are much more complex. Parents and teachers often put undue pressure on students without considering their intellectual capacities. Most often, parents and teachers like to visualise their students as doctors, engineers and IT professionals, forgetting the fact that every student is unique.

In order to visualise the dreams of their parents and teachers, students slog day and night. Some successfully accomplish, while others reach the verge of depression and suicide. Teachers play a major role in developing a student’s self-esteem, self confidence, and success. Teachers can motivate, inspire and act as emotional supports to students by understanding their personal wishes and intellectual capacity.

n Environmental factors: Various environmental factors like exposure to violence, poverty, natural calamities, traumatic events and association with a deviant peer group are all great risk factors for developing various psychological problems in students.

n Interpersonal relationships: Digital world and media have limited the students to computers and phone thus relationship with parents, peers and teachers are reducing each day. Students who have better social skills are less prone to anxiety and depression. Positive social relationships with peers, teachers, and parents promote well-being of a student.

n Social factors: Influence of media, anti-social behaviour, crime, use of alcohol, and violence among students cause various mental health issues. The incorrect depiction of mentally-ill people in the media may also initiate fear and panic in students that they may no longer will have courage to seek assistance or treatment.

n Cultural factors: Cultural factors also can have a significant influence on the mental health of a student. Mental health problems in India is stigmatised with various belief system. Thus, many don’t receive required care and treatment. In some cultures, mental health problems are no longer considered health issues, thus, students may not have awareness about the distress experienced and may not seek help.

Schools can play a critical role in identifying mental health problems because they create a familiar, non-threatening, and accessible environment for each student. Multiple resources can come together in schools to efficiently create awareness about mental health and promote prevention services aimed at reducing the incidence of emotional and behavioural problems in students.

Although working with students who have psychological issues can be challenging, parents, teachers and school counsellors can work together to prevent, ameliorate many mental health issues by advocating, educating, and proving treatment in earlier stages. Every parent and teacher needs to take the necessary action in raising emotionally healthy students, preparing students with life skills to cope with life problems, assisting students to deal with developmental issues, decreasing stress amongst students and promote positive mental health notion.

Mental health problems in students are of increasing concern in India. Schools have a unique role to play in providing healthy surroundings and supportive skills through which students can develop needed assistance when challenged with various psychological and physical stressors. Fostering a bond between school and the student has potential protective
relationship that can counteract harmful experience.
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