Mental health: Schools weighed down by lack of trained counsellors

Over the last few years, an increasing number of schools are roping in mental health professionals to provide much-needed support to their students. Some educational boards, like the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), have made it mandatory for schools to bring in counsellors.

While parents, students and experts in the field acknowledge that this a step in the right direction, the quality of mental health professionals and the lack of adequate counsellors are areas of concern. Anecdotal evidence suggests a rise in the number of students struggling with peer pressure, body image issues and other challenges. But there are simply not enough counsellors to go around.

Preethi Mathur, a counsellor at Delhi Public School North, Bengaluru, said that cases of depression, anxiety and other mental illness among students are increasing. “This is especially in adolescents,” she said.

Sangeeta Saksena, co-founder of the Enfold Proactive Health Trust, a non-government organisation that works in association with several educational institutions, too, spoke about an imbalance in the student-to-counsellor ratio.

No regulatory body

The quality of mental healthcare is also a matter of concern. Educational institutions admit that many of their counsellors do not have any background in psychology, and they often recruit people for the role if they have completed a crash course in counselling. The lack of a regulatory body or mechanism governing the functioning of counsellors in such institutions adds to the problem of quality of healthcare being delivered to students.

Ms. Saksena said, “There is no standard for counsellors in India. There is no Indian council of counsellors that lays down guidelines. Anyone can do a course in counselling from any academy and become a counsellor.” When this happens, counsellors end up dictating instead of telling the child what to do, which is different from what counselling is, she added.

Some students suggested that their experience with counsellors in their respective schools and colleges have not been positive and blame the lack of trained counsellors. Many doubt whether confidentiality is maintained. This lack of trust in the system keeps students from approaching counsellors.

“We worry that if we confide in the school counsellor, the administration or our parents will be brought in,” said one student.

Harika E., a college student said that the counsellor in her school was insensitive and did not listen to what she had to say. “She was extremely patronising and would give me advice without listening to my concerns. She was sarcastic and brushed aside my problems,” said Harika, who felt that the counsellor was more concerned about her attendance in class than her mental well-being.

In some colleges, the psychology professor doubles up as a counsellor, which raises the problem of conflict of interest.

According to K. John Vijay Sagar, professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences (NIMHANS), students are more often than not prone to academic stress, interpersonal problems, which can include bullying, family issues, and inability to cope with physical and psychological developments. Addiction to gaming, gadgets and social networking sites are also common problems.

Given the lack of trained professionals in this field, most teachers in schools double up as counsellors after undergoing training in counselling, he said.

“There is a dearth of mental health professionals in the country. Even though all counsellors do not have formal education in psychology and psychiatry, they can still act as the first level response team,” he said. He suggested that counsellors who practice in schools and pre-university colleges should be trained to specifically work with adolescents.

(With inputs from Tanu Kukarni)

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2021 2:33:48 PM |

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