The very utterance of ‘mental health’ receives a response loaded with stigma and indifference. As for mental health in schools, the necessity and significance of this are often met with a cold shoulder. I’m not saying all this as a neutral observer or a rank outsider to these situations. My opinions are the result of my experiences as a school administrator.
Obtaining a master’s degree in Education Administration, I set my sights on building a career in schools and colleges, trying to understand the nitigrities of the education system. While I came across many lacunae, the most glaring of them was the abject disregard for the inclusion of mental health as an integral part of the child’s school experience.
In order to place things in perspective, I’d like to share an incident that highlights the role of schools in the mental health of children. Also, the specifics of the incident are being withheld for privacy reasons.
Some children belonging to primary school were caught in the social media mire and were part of a misadventure. On my response to that action of theirs, they sunk deep into depression and developed suicidal tendencies. Quite naturally, I was perplexed and was in a fix. It was a tightrope walk indeed. After much deliberation, I decided on how to go about handling the situation.
Banking heavily on being persistent, lending a patient ear and shedding all the judgemental tendencies, the next months bore fruit. The students in question faced the annual examinations with confidence and aced it. The lessons from this, for me, are two important learnings. One, the undeniable need for schools-centric mental health policy. Two, constant evaluation of the student-teacher relationship.
Children, apart from the time spent at home, are occupied with school, friends and importantly, teachers. They hold sway over the career, future and emotional intelligence. Also, schools can play a vital role in identifying symptoms of mental illnesses. For this reason alone, there is an immediate need to act and devise methods to build programmes on mental health in schools. This can involve workshops, seminars on child psychology and a host of activities centred around the concerning issue.
Learning from the world is another way of improving education in schools across the country. An assessment of policies and initiatives in schools in the west can serve as a marker in this regard. It is not said that we should blindly ape them, but we can only gain by studying and analysing their ways of integrating mental health into mainstream school education.
Above all, mental health in schools can make or break the life of a young mind full of potential. It’s high time, we prioritize and act cohesively to build effective school-centric mental health services and gift ourselves a world where children are happy, healthy and secure.