Sumanti Sen is an English Literature graduate who believes "there's just one kind of folks. Folks.".
Feeling sad, angry, anxious and frustrated is a daily experience for all of us. Most of the time, we overlook them assuming they are just temporary phases that will pass, which perhaps turns out to be true in most cases. But lurking around these feelings are greater problems. What we tend to suppress often takes the form of deadly mental illnesses — like depression, among others.
These days, the mental health crisis that the youth is facing is revealed in various alarming reports. What is actually an issue of greater concern is the high level of unawareness about the topic among school-going kids. The moment a person violates a socially acceptable behaviour, children end up calling them ‘crazy’, ‘cranky’ or ‘cribber’. These things are ignored by parents assuming they are petty issues. Subsequently, these parents end up overlooking the same symptoms in their own kids, which takes an ugly turn as they grow up.
What is important to be acknowledged is that children too have complex feelings like frustration, elation, nervousness, sadness, jealousy, fright, worry, anger and embarrassment. Experts say that behavioral disorders like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, as well as specific learning difficulties are very often neglected or overlooked in school-going children. Depression and anxiety disorders are also often left unattended.
To gain insight into the opinions and attitude of the community of mental health professionals who work in schools, Fortis conducted a survey. The study revealed that there is a high level of unawareness among school children about issues related to mental health. According to the study, 65% counsellors (and allied professionals) believed that students were unaware of the most common mental illnesses. 91% of the participants believed that mental health is not given proper importance in their schools, and students actually preferred search engines and social media to get information about mental health.
Among the participants, 96% recognized that there is a dire need to incorporate a curriculum for mental health in schools. According to 29% counsellors (and allied professionals), children, when in distress, keep their worries to themselves rather than communicating, which obviously happens due to unawareness. 88% of participants believed that when there is conversation on psychological or emotional concerns among friends, children do not know how to respond.
Dr. Samir Parikh, MBBS, DPM, MD (psy), Consultant Psychiatrist, Director-Department of Mental Health and Behavioral Sciences Chairperson- Fortis National Mental Health Council said that it is extremely important to inculcate the importance of mental health as a significant part of health, because of which the issue should be introduced to children at the earliest age possible. He said that this is also important so that children feel comfortable to reach out for help whenever they feel something is wrong.
“Similar to them reporting physical discomfort or pain immediately, they need to learn ways to be comfortable talking about their psychological pain and discomfort as they grow up.
Especially within the school settings, training the students to be equipped with basic life skills would enable them to deal with the challenges of the contemporary world in a more adaptive and informed manner, and thereby would ensure an enhanced psychological well-being and positive mental health for one and all,” he said.
Unawareness is the major reason behind children and youths not reaching out for help even when they are suffering from extreme mental trauma. In several cases, they cannot identify that what they are facing is an illness that can be treated, and in other cases they are scared of being judged.
The taboo around mental illness is an evil that with time can destroy lives. Unable to figure out what to do, people end up committing suicide. A number of cases of suicide take place due the person suffering from depression.
Introducing the existence of mental illness and the need to seek help when needed can end up saving lives. Depression, anxiety and other mental disorders are medical conditions and can be cured with treatment. Just as people do not feel awkward to talk about physical illnesses, mental health should also be a topic of open discussion.
Schools should definitely take the responsibility to educate children about the symptoms of mental illnesses, and make them aware that reaching out for help is of great importance.
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