Living in a conflict zone has a direct bearing on mental health. It is a documented fact that women and children are especially at the receiving end in terms of psychological harm. COVID-19 has added to the stress level of the vulnerable groups, and also family heads who were rendered unemployed and could not fulfil the needs of their families. Such stress has shattered individuals, families and relationships. Mental health is the most neglected aspect in our society, which has complicated the issue.
The Department of School Education in 2020 launched a programme to reach out to the students who were confined in their homes due to COVID-19 pandemic. During this programme, counsellor teachers received training from psychologists and medical practitioners in both online as well as offline mode. It helped the counsellor teachers to understand the importance of mental health. Through this initiative, our team of counsellors reached out to over 12,000 students in district Bandipore.
Both parents and students have been living a stressful life in most families since the pandemic emerged and teachers are no exception. When both parents and teachers are themselves fearful and stressed, we cannot expect them to bring their children out of stressful situations. If the issue is not addressed well in time, it can lead to disastrous consequences.
What is the way forward?
Both the training in counselling and the interaction with students made us realise that parents, teachers and students need to be sensitised about mental health issues on a mass scale. The need is to sensitise each and every teacher through cluster-level trainings in the first phase (we have some 40 clusters in 5 Educational Zones of the district), followed by the 2nd phase of parent sensitisation.
When our teachers are aware of the importance of mental health, only then can we expect them to work for the well-being of their students. There are instances when in some cases teachers with their attitude discourage students. Even in some cases the students go through psychological trauma. Teachers need to be trained on how to deal with students in the class, especially those coming from poorer or different backgrounds in government educational institutions.
It has come to our notice that students going through some mental health issues are being treated harshly at home as well as at school. I recently came across a Class 6th student who began to behave in an abnormal way at home and also at school. At home his parents used to reprimand him, shame him and beat him. At school, teachers shamed him before other students. God forbid, if tomorrow the student becomes an outlaw, who is to be blamed?
Once every teacher is counselled and trained, the focus should be shifted to parents. Instead of engaging teachers in non-academic activities, their services should be utilised to counsel parents and students. A mechanism in consultation with Department of Psychiatry in SKIMS and Department of Medical Education needs to be framed to train the teachers.
Besides other material aspects, ignoring the spiritual side is the main cause of the steep rise in mental health issues in our society. An individual is a combination of body and soul. Taking care of the body’s needs and leaving the soul unattended will lead to adverse consequences. For spiritual well-being of the students, necessary measures need to be taken. Religious scholars could be roped in to help the community overcome mental health issues.
Religious scholars are supposed to help people come out of the morass of hate, greed, selfishness, conflicts, mad race for material gains, and anxieties of life – some of the causes of mental health issues. They need to be taken on board to tackle the growing problem of mental health illness.
—The writer is District Nodal Officer for Counselling in District Bandipora