A Healthy Mental Health Community
Mental health is not only about being free of depression or any clinical diagnosis but it is also about the quality of life we lead. Damayanti Barua shares more.
Recently I read the term ‘Healthy Community’ somewhere and I was very intrigued by it. What makes a community healthy? Considering how many people are still deprived of basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter in our country, how many of us could be concerned about mental health?
We all possibly know the answer. A lot of the urban population understands burnout, anxiety and a healthy balance in life. But, has limited knowledge of how to maintain mental health. Any mental condition or illness is still perceived as excessively repulsive or humiliating by most. This brings me to the point that, if we, the privileged adults know so little and talk so little about it, how do we expect our children, the next generation to be aware and vigilant about mental health?
As a community, conversations around mental health are not enough, as a whole, in schools, amongst parents, between teachers and students, and between parents and children to get the idea of mental well-being rooted deep. There needs to be a concerted effort to create more opportunities and forums to have meaningful exchanges to create judgement-free environments in school, at home and in the larger community.
The benchmarks of healthy communities tend to shift from time to time depending on the existing societal structures. Conversations need to happen around the concept of humiliation, redefining success and standards of achievements making anything less than that acceptable as long as it’s progress or improvement to build a viable future.
Mental health is not only about being free of depression or any clinical diagnosis but it is also about the quality of life we lead.
Children do not grow on trees blessed with a pre-set successful life. They need to be nurtured to lead a good quality life. To be independent and lead a healthy and successful life, children need help from their parents, as well as other caregivers, and teachers, who act in the role of first sources of support.
Children look up to their parents and teachers as role models. And they see adults being angry or upset or with any other strong negative emotion. But hardly do they witness conversations to mitigate those problems or manage emotions. Thus, it leaves enough scope for children to build their own perceptions of the world which may not always be realistic. This leads to the manifestation of consequences in form of unrealistic demands, feelings of inadequacy or dysfunctional behaviour.
To nurture mental well-being in school children, many modern schools have initiated several measures and processes. That’s a great start to the so long neglected.
However, more two-way discussions with ‘focus on being’ rather than ‘focus on only doing’ is important. Children need to be taught the value of both, doing nothing and doing everything for their own sake and humanity, not for comparison.
Over-adoration for natural brilliance and unrealistic expectations rising out of it single-handedly or in combination can become toxic for a child’s mental health. So facilitators and parents need to be aware and careful who tread that path. They also need to be trained to identify sensitivities and how to begin or handle delicate conversations.
Humiliation is one emotion that a whole lot of children feel to varying degrees. The feeling of intense shame can be damaging for mental health and go to the extent of loss of ability to trust, altering interpersonal capabilities. Not only the schools, but as a community, we need to work together with experts to identify instances that cause shame to children debilitating their mental health, and work towards eroding those instances.
Childhood mental health includes achieving developmental milestones, learning healthy social skills, building trust, and dealing with problems as they arise. It is more likely that mentally healthy children function well at home, in school, and in communities.
Mental health is not a destination but a journey. And in that journey primary caregivers and teachers are at the forefront leading the way, getting imitated every now and then by children.
As per a CDC report (US), if parents and teachers have poor mental health, children under their supervision could have mental health concerns. To prevent this, adults need to take responsibility for their own mental health first like the way they do for physical health.
Having a hobby should be encouraged and supported for every child in school. When we pursue a hobby, chemical messengers like dopamine get released which helps us feel pleasure and contentment. Hobbies can fuel a true sense of purpose, shape accurate perceptions of the world around us, and help us ‘be’. Parents and teachers together have to join hands and work cohesively towards it.
Lastly, social influences on children of today are different from yesteryears in the presence of peers, the internet, and social media. It is critical to mentor students from an early age on peer pressure, the significance of over-dependence on social media, and the pitfalls of the internet. This will prevent students from developing irrational perceptions of self and expectations.
It is our responsibility towards future generations, to nurture those thousands of children into individuals with a healthy mindset too. One more important part is not defying the existence of unhealthy habits, unhealthy emotions, and unhealthy mindsets, but to keep working towards supporting ourselves, learning from each other and getting better each day through the journey.
About the Author – Damayanti Barua is a Story Coach, Storyteller, and Pitch Consultant.