Why mental health support should be integrated into education

With mental health issues on the rise among the youth, educational institutions should create safe spaces to foster emotional wellbeing of students

January 01, 2023 03:22 pm | Updated 03:22 pm IST

Education is a journey of self-exploration, self-discovery and self-experimentation and students’ emotional and mental well-being needs to be fostered.

Education is a journey of self-exploration, self-discovery and self-experimentation and students’ emotional and mental well-being needs to be fostered. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockPhoto

The path of higher education is critical in every student’s life, as it determines their future. Over the past two years, the pandemic-led lockdowns and the uncertainties associated with them have had a detrimental effect on mental well-being. Young adults, especially, have been exhibiting particularly high rates of insecurity, unruly behaviour, drug abuse, distress, depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. The shift to remote learning programmes and temporary closures led to a drastic decline in attention spans and poor learning outcomes. Limited or lack of access to digital learning, absence of appropriate counselling and support, and the inability to connect with peers triggered loneliness and anxiety, further exacerbating the situation.

While there is limited empirical evidence to understand the full extent of the pandemic’s impacts on mental health, several studies highlight the generally poor state of mental well-being for Indian youth and the broader stigma around it. According to UNICEF’s survey findings for 21 countries in The State of the World’s Children 2021 report, every one in seven youngsters between 15 and 24 years in India reported some form of poor mental health such as feelings of depression or disinterest. and only 41% felt there was a need to reach out for support when people experienced mental health issues. This was the lowest across the 21 countries surveyed. The mental health crisis in India is further compounded by a severe shortage of trained professionals. A study from the Indian Journal of Psychiatry estimates that India has 0.75 psychiatrists per 1,00,000 patients, which is much lower than the recommended three psychiatrists per 1,00,000.

Over the years, collegiate bodies, higher authorities and student counselling groups have taken a few measures to provide adequate support to students with mental health issues. While there is greater awareness of and talk about mental health, tangible measures should be put in place in educational institutions that reopened in 2022 after two years of closure to ensure the overall well-being of students.

What institutes can do

Here are some ways to strengthen mental healthcare services on education campuses across India:

Create youth-driven activities and promote volunteers and personal mentors who can be trained as frontline support to address issues around mental health within the campus.

Establish a tailored curriculum that supports and interests students, and a teaching methodology which motivates them.

Develop resilient educators who can handle students with varying needs and take a keen interest in connecting with their world.

Host mental health counselling camps, wellness weeks, as well as interactive sessions within the campus to teach students self-calming or anxiety-coping techniques.

Build a safe and interactive classroom environment that includes organising activities to help manage stress and promote well-being.

Have an open-door policy to help students feel comfortable in sharing their problems and seeking appropriate support.

Ensure that trained professionals are on hand to provide in-house medical assistance, counselling and telehealth offerings on confidential matters.

Encourage social time by promoting co–curricular activities to build self-esteem and social skills.

For the educators

Apart from institutional efforts, teachers and professors also need to take action on their part. For example, pay attention and be mindful of how they communicate with the students. The tone must be warm yet professional. Educators should take students’ concerns seriously, offer validation and acceptance, and avoid shaming. They should motivate students by emphasising their positives, encouraging teamwork and collaboration, and giving constructive feedback.

Education in Higher Education Institutes (HEIS) is a journey of self-exploration, self-discovery and self-experimentation. Creating a safe and congenial learning environment will help foster better emotional and mental well-being of students, which in turn will lead to better academic results.

As we begin our journey in 2023, it is imperative that our educational institutions work towards providing early intervention through appropriate support and accessibility for all.

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