Mental Health Matters!
The status of the teacher as “Sage on the Stage” is obsolete. A teacher should create a classroom culture that promotes and prioritizes mental well-being.
Mental well-being is central to our functioning as human beings. As renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow has rightly stated, “humans have an innate drive to grow towards fulfilling their potential in life and self-actualization.” But how is it possible without well-being and good mental health?
During the pandemic, we experienced significant mental turmoil. The cases of depression and anxiety increased drastically. According to WHO, in today’s day and age, depression is one of the leading causes of disability, and suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among those between the ages of 15 – 29 years old.
Mental health plays a critical role at every stage in our lives. Mental well-being includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Good mental health determines how we understand and handle situations that we are presented with daily. Individuals with good mental health consider stressful situations challenging and not as threat. The mental health of a person determines the way they think, feel and act in correspondence to their inner and outer worlds.
We all live in a “VUCA” world which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Every day, we face challenges of work pressure, and health issues, and are continuously striving to find the balance between family life and work life. Similar are the students, who face challenges like bullying, adjustment with peers, the pressure of scoring 100%, college admissions, competitions, and what not! It takes a toll when the demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities.
Mental and physical well-being are related to each other. For example, an anxious student can experience increased heart rate, headaches, palpitations, excessive sweating, dizziness, and tiredness. People who experience high levels and prolonged stressed can develop diseases like coronary heart disease and hypertension.
It is a challenge to talk about anxiety and depression amongst students and teachers because of lack of awareness and acceptance. It is difficult to acknowledge that it is ok not to be ok. Stigma and labels around mental health make it difficult to have unbiased conversations between teachers, parents, and students about how one feels. Academics are given priority over mental health and students go through rigorous continuous assessment, a struggle for high standards of achievement, and neck-to-neck contests that undermine their well-being. The family and home environment also influences the mental health of the students and educators. So, what can institutions do to bridge this gap?
The well-being of students and educators lie in the practices and culture of the organization. This requires a Comprehensive School Approach to imbibe the best practices to promote the well-being of all the stakeholders. Mental Health Education should be a mandatory aspect of all schools. It is high time to realize that it is the responsibility of teachers, parents, authorities, and all the other stakeholders to ensure the well-being of the students.
Well-being is multi-faceted. It can be divided into various domains like emotional, social, psychological, physical, and environment. Emotional well-being means being able to manage one’s emotions effectively. Social well-being is related to the ability to develop meaningful communication and healthy relationships with others. Psychological well-being includes being happy, resilient, and able to achieve goals without letting obstacles have an adverse effect on your progress. The ability to keep your body healthy and fit by engaging in healthy eating habits and exercise encompasses the physical aspect. Well-being is also promoted by creating a safe environment that is happy, conducive, and collaborative.
Some of the best practices that schools can do for students and educators should include:
- Building awareness to recognize signs and symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression.
- Formulating Annual Mental Health Training Programs for educators and students.
- Individual and group counseling sessions by the counselor and experts.
- Organizing mindfulness workshops for stress and anxiety management.
- Life Skills based Curriculum to equip the students to handle adversity.
- Teaching the 21st-century skills and their importance.
- Breaking the taboos by creating Mental Health Awareness.
- Creating a comfortable environment to share feelings while maintaining confidentiality.
- Fostering a culture of trust and value in the school.
- Organizing mental health talks by people who have struggled and opening their stories to inspire.
- Seeking necessary support from psychologists and mental health experts.
- Encouraging students/teachers to ask for help in a confidential setting.
- Promoting the culture of collaborative work in the schools as collaboration diffuses anxiety.
The status of the teacher as “Sage on the Stage” is obsolete. The role of the teacher now is not only limited to teaching. S/he acts as a mentor to impart and imbibe values and skills in the students to make them future-ready. A teacher should create a classroom culture that promotes and prioritizes mental well-being.
First, the teacher needs to make their students feel that they are valued as an individual. It is important to build trust and belief in students. The teachers must contribute to building high self-esteem in students.
Secondly, creating an environment of appreciation and acceptance in the classroom. Teachers should aim to express unconditional positive regard towards the students without being judgmental. Parental acceptance of issues is also important.
Next, being empathetic identifies the areas where the students experience anxiety and need support. For example, helping the students during the examination to reduce anxiety and stress.
Inculcating Student-Led Experiential Learning projects in the curriculum helps the students to learn and explore at a pace suited to their capabilities. This will not only foster the learning process but also promote curiosity and excitement amongst the learners. Hence, students will not consider studying as a source of stress.
The teachers should encourage students to participate in mental health conversations in the classroom. We need to encourage the students to open up and share their feelings and create a healthy, judgment-free environment for healthy communication. We need to break the myths and sensitize people around the that “I am not the only one”.
Installing empathy boxes around the school campus where the students can write about their problems on paper, put it in the box, and approach the school counselor without having to undergo the pressure of stigma attached to getting “mental help”.
Role models play an imperative role in the life of students. Discussions on the life of people who have overcome hardships and struggles with mental health should be promoted. The aim of the discussions should be to equip the students with skills and develop resilience.
Depending on the student’s age group different activities can be planned on a weekly basis to help the students to vent out their feelings in the form of play, art, drama, and music.
Students look forward to listening to stories and personal experiences. The teachers can share some of their personal experiences to help the students build a connection and create a conducive environment for the students to learn from real-life experiences.
At the end of the day, we must realize that Mental health issues do not develop overnight. The signs and symptoms develop over the course of time. We need to be sensitive enough to observe and understand the signs of mental distress. One should seek help and support others to help battle the stigma surrounding mental health so that we can promote an environment of acceptance, affection, and empathy towards others.
“Not all battles are visible, and neither are the victories.” ― Brittany Burgunder
Author – Tanvi Sharma, PGT Psychology, Mayo College, Ajmer.