Transforming Mental healthcare in Schools: Schools and colleges need to have more than just webinars on mental health

Why is mental health a critical part of a student’s overall wellbeing? Recently, it has been noted that students lately have been facing a range of demands and preset expectations that can impact their mental health, from navigating the virtual world through social media, maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships with peers and family, whilst performing well academically and trying to take care of their physical and emotional wellbeing is not an wast task. Studies across the world have indicated how mental health has been declining for students across different age ranges, increasing anxiety and depression levels and also increasing substance use issues. 

Mental health problems can affect various areas in an individual’s life and decrease their quality of life, satisfaction with career and overall school/ college experience and it can further decrease lasting relationships with friends, peers and family, these negative effects can cause a ripple effect and further affect their future employment, earning potential, confidence levels and overall health. The consequences of poor mental health in pop psychology have been attributed to symptoms of depression and anxiety; ignoring other consequences that can lead to multiple issues for an individual within a family and ultimately a community. This is because the environment in a School serves as a microcosm for an individual’s interpersonal, institutional, communal and social relationships. 

Over the years, mental health awareness has been steadily increasing, and the solutions to increase awareness has been associated with engaging students in talks and webinars about mental health and mental health issues, highlighting symptoms and recognising warning signs, yet when it comes to actually implementing services related to mental health, schools and educational institutions seem to fall short for the resources to do so. This gap is indicative of how mental health is expansive, it is shaped by histories and systems that shape how we experience the world.

The negative consequences for a student who does not get adequate mental health support- 

  1. Prevalence of stress
  2. Increased anxiety 
  3. Increased depression 
  4. Sleep issues 
  5. Substance mis-use 

However, a student’s mental health also impacts friends, peers, educators and family members, therefore the consequences for others can look like

  • Changes in mood for peers, faculty and family 
  • Change in functioning of the family as a unit 
  • Profound feelings of guilt when thinking about the impacted individual 

Consequences for educational institutions, communities and the larger society can look like –

  • Higher drop-out rates 
  • The community is negatively impacted when students are unable to contribute valuable skills in a competitive market

Focusing on mental health from a community perspective and fostering the mental health of students as a community can lead to multiple benefits on an ecological level, however as mentioned before merely conducting seminars, webinars and workshops are not the solution towards implementing mental health care in schools and educational spaces. One way in which mental health care can be integrated in is through establishing a mandated mental health curricula across educational spaces. So how can we develop strategies and tools to ensure this is integrated in a child’s life for as long as they’re attending school/ continuing education? Here are some ways in which mental health care can be expanded across- 

  • Talking about mental health and initiating conversations to decrease the stigma around mental health 
  • Engage in conversations that normalise psychotherapy 
  • Providing appropriate training for teachers and staff members; this is because educators need appropriate levels of training to identify and respond to signs or symptoms of mental health issues 
  • Incorporating emotional wellness into teaching by integrating self-care plans into academics and classwork 
  • Providing tools for students such as encouraging students to practice mindfulness, teaching relaxation strategies, encourage dance and movement therapy 
  • Furthermore, encouraging students to journal or engage in some type of creativity that helps in identifying and processing emotions can largely benefit emotional regulation amongst students
  • Initiating bi-weekly therapy sessions for students who may want to avail it 

Here are some additional resources that can help us in doing more than just encouraging students to attend webinars or courses on mental health – 

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Archana Raghavan is a trainee psychotherapist and researcher, pursuing her masters at TISS, Mumbai. She enjoys reading and writing on mental health, therapy, identity and culture.
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