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June 2020
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Health News
Scenario of Private Vs Govt schools students Mental Health of Delhi
 
We invariably look at health from the viewpoint of body and diet and seldom, if ever, link it with mind and emotions – that inevitably reflect in one’s attitude. Obviously enough, family, school and the society-at-large directly influence mental and emotional health – especially that of the young impressionable child. If the aforementioned three institutions provide an environment that is stable and morally upright, then the children would also imbibe similarly healthy traits.

The following story of 13 year old Nisha (name changed), a student of class 8 in a reputed private school of Delhi, clearly brings out the importance of the role of aforementioned institutions. Being a metropolitan city, Delhi has its advantages and disadvantages, both. One important aspect, having major bearing on the emotional health of the child, is the forced loneliness of the child, resulting from absence of grandparents, small nuclear family, and both parents working outside home, in most cases.

The case of Nisha fell in the above category; and, she started losing interest in studies and her performance, especially academic, started deteriorating. The teachers presumed that the reason of her increasingly poor performance was lack of attention towards her studies from parents, whereas parents presumed it to be teachers’ fault – and thought of ‘home tuition’ as the way out! However, the ‘home tuition’ did not really help, and the time passed by. Nisha didn’t open up with anyone; neither with parents at home and nor with class-fellows in school.

At home, Nisha started increasingly withdrawing herself; and, most of the time, she was all by herself in her room. The parents presumed that she was busy with increasing pressure of her studies. Nisha had however become a serious victim of depression and isolation; and, that precisely was the reason for her declining performance in school. And, by the time parents of Nisha met school teachers, the situation had become so severe that medication had become inevitable.

The most painful aspect is that the condition of Nisha would not have reached such a pass if her family, school and the society were alert. Actually, it was loneliness over long time that was the main culprit here. Being conscious of the need for her both parents to work in order to afford their standard of living, Nisha could never demand her parents for company. Given her age, she could not find a way out for her loneliness; and, it would be unfair to expect that she could have realized that her parents could remedy the situation, if she shared her problem with them.

A useful comparison of the aforementioned case of Nisha can be had with that Payal (name changed), a student of class 9. She had the company of her grandparents, but was unable to withstand the pressure – of her peers in school and the dominant society. She was, therefore, always tense. Because, unlike other children, her mother could not afford to send her for tuition classes, she felt that she was lagging behind in studies!

Payal did not have father, and her mother was a domestic servant. After returning from school, she lived with her grandparents and used to converse with them at length. But because of her poor performance in studies, she was losing her self-confidence; and that was adversely affecting her performance in other areas as well. But Payal’s grandmother was the first one to notice that something was amiss, and talked to her. Once she became aware of the involved issue, she approached her teacher in the school, and they joined hands to help Payal – thereby saving Payal from any possible mental ailment in future.

The above two case studies are typical of the respective social groups; and, therefore, one can say that it clearly emerges that the stronger the child’s bonding – especially in the family, but also in school and the society-at-large – brighter are the chances that the child would have stable and desirable character and conduct. In other words, first and foremost, it is the strong support system, especially in the family, that is must for the child’s healthy mental and emotional state.

With regard to the above, Dr. Bindu Prasad, a post graduate from reputed Boston College, USA, with 50 years’ experience as clinical psychologist, and a very long association as Counsellor with the highly prestigious Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, Delhi, had this to say: “With the issue of mental health, the students of not only private, but also government, schools are grappling with; but the causative factors of the two groups are different. For instance, in case of kids from government schools, the difficulties associated with stidies especially in case of English and Mathematics, consumption of substances, lack of self-confidence etc. are major reasons; whereas the children from private schools are increasingly becoming mental patients because of fast penetrating social media, loneliness and drugs’ abuse.”

Dr. Bindu Prasad also informed that the children from both groups face the challenge of peer pressure, but it is often observed that because of the lack of self-confidence and attitudinal issues, the children from lower middle class often fall prey to anti-social elements – that becomes extremely harmful, and many times dangerous as well, for their future.

With regard to family tensions and domestic violence, Dr. Bindu Prasad was of the view that the children from both groups have to face these. However, the difference is that, in case of the children from government schools, more often than not it glares in their face and little, if any, efforts are made by the parents to hide it; whereas in case of the children of private schools, the problem is not so blatant or overt; however, it is palpable, and even the tiny minds of these private schools’ children can feel it.

Sharing her experience with regard to the education system, Dr. Bindu Prasad opined: “Our education system needs to be holistic; and it would be better if there is space for yoga and meditation as well, because these provide mental stability; and that has huge positive influence on the academic performance of the child as well. However I am of the view that the children should play – as much as s/he wishes to, because that would provide the child real happiness; and, a happy child will never require any kind of counselling!”

In fact, last year the government introduced ‘happiness curriculum’ in some of the government schools in Delhi. The aim of this innovative scheme was to help make the children stress-free and happy through introduction of 45 minutes’ period – half-way between the subjects’ periods – for mental exercises or meditation.

Dr. Bindu Prasad is however not in agreement with the idea of teaching mental health as a full-fledged subject at the school level; though some educationists opine that its teaching can arrest the spread of mental ailments. She is of the view that lectures on mental health can be organized from time to time or the topics on mental health can be clubbed with life skill education – because as a separate subject, it would be an unnecessary burden on the children.

Dr. Prasad is of the view that to include mental health in the curriculum and/ or to enact a law on mental health is not likely to solve mental problems. She suggested that in addition to yoga and meditation, the children should be involved in several creative works, such as pottery making, gardening, painting, Paper Mache work etc. Also, the children should be encouraged to play outdoor games, participate in debates and discussions, and undertake physical and mental exercises of their choice. All this can be taken as alternative therapy.

Dr. Prasad also suggests that in addition to the children, the teachers should also be involved in receiving and imparting training on mental health. She fondly reminiscences how in olden times, as far back as in 1983, she had conducted lot many training sessions – not only for the children but also for the teachers – so that the latter can also help the children. She told that in addition to awareness on mental health, it is also essential to work on the behaviour of the teachers. The teachers and all others who deal with the children must be sensitised with regard to mental health. Awareness and sensitivity of the teacher enables her/ him recognise the symptoms of the mental ailment early.

The latest LANCET report (2019) informs that the suicidal thoughts start germinating in the childhood itself. In a metropolitan city like Delhi, with regard to the factors adversely affecting mental health, pressure of studies is found to be the major culprit. The recent report (2018) of National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) informs that the number of people committing suicide because of long illness has reduced; but it expresses great concern that the graph of suicides due to mental health issues has been steeply rising.

Our country has very good medical facilities for physical ailments, but the same cannot be said about the mental health issues; not even enough doctors are available to treat mentally indisposed patients. The government must recognise that with regard to mental health, the time is running out; and urgent attention and steps are needed to save the country from mental ailments assuming epidemic proportions. There is no option but to control this menace at the level of children or adolescents.

Dr. Prasad points out that the family, school and society-at-large will have to jointly ensure that the obtaining environment is full of positivity, so that the energy of the children can be channelized in the right direction and their best possible development takes place. A healthy society can be built if, and only if, every stakeholder comes forward and contributes one’s bit.

Narjis Husain


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