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The need for paying heed to the mental health of children

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Vikram Beri, Founder and Spokesperson, BetterLYF.com, shares his insights on why it is necessary for parents and teachers to take care of children’s mental health

Every parent wants their children to learn and build life skills that help them navigate challenges in life. So, we have schools that impart the training aiming at overall development- moral, cognitive, social, intellectual and physical. What often is missed out is emotional development– managing anger, hurt, disappointment, failures; in short, taking care of emotions, thoughts and mind.

Teenage and adolescence are the years of transition that sets up the stage for self-esteem and identity. An international journal of psychiatry reveals that the first onset of mental disorders occurs usually in childhood and adolescence. Disorders like impulse control disorders (attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder), anxiety disorders (the phobias and separation anxiety disorder) have a very early age of onset, as early as seven to 14 years. In fact, 12 per cent of psychiatric disorders are prevalent among children and adolescent populations in India (Srinath & Sitholey, 2005).

Fear of failure in exams and judgments of parents, teachers, peers and the society around can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety, and can even reduce the self-worth of the child. Undiagnosed or lack of proper care early on can allow negative thought patterns and belief systems to persist and can soon lead to depression and even suicide in some cases. India has been recorded with the highest number of teen suicides in recent years. With the rise of student suicides every passing day, there is a need for people to recognise the need for mental health care.

There is also a growing need to address the stigma that prevents the parents of a distressed child to seek help. Often, the growing silence of troubled children can be overlooked as a matter of tantrum instead of trauma or considered too young and small to be consumed by depression or anxiety.

So, how do we adopt mental health as a part of school culture?

  • By creating awareness between teachers and parents regarding relevant age issues, helping them identify early symptoms of mental health concerns.
  • By creating awareness on the importance of various emotions, gender sensitisation and social issues that impact mental health. For example, it’s okay to cry irrespective of your gender.
  • Sensitise students on various issues like bullying and body positivity most common among child and adult population that directly impacts their self-esteem. Teaching assertiveness techniques at an early age can help build confidence and combat various forms of peer pressure.
  • Regular interactive sessions with students to normalise the stigma and build habits around positive mental health.
  • Appointment of peer counsellors for more detailed information about the problems in different classes. This helps in bringing out students who would not come for counselling voluntarily.
  • Schools can also help in the identification of children with issues at home or living in an abusive house environment, by observing their basic hygiene or behaviour.
  • Mental health programmes at school also help in diagnosing learning issues. If not diagnosed, these children are under confident and show signs of either depression or act out negatively in their teenage years.

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