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HT Dialogues: Prioritising mental health in students 

By Pallavi Kanungo,

The second episode of HT Dialogues focussed on challenges faced by students in terms of mental health.

These luminaries from both education and health sectors shed light on the major mental health issues of students.

Mental health issues are one of the major concerns among school students today. As a matter of fact, a recent study revealed that the Covid-19 pandemic had unleashed a tsunami of challenges, including a 35 per cent rise in depressive and anxiety disorders among K-12 students and impacted over 50 crores students in India alone. Closure of schools, lack of outdoor activities and social interaction affected learning habits leading to monotony, anguish, irritation, and diverse neuro-psychiatric symptoms among the school-goers. Keeping these in mind, the second episode of HT Dialogues Season 2 focussed on the topic “Mental Health Issues in Students.”  The panellists included notable personalities from the field of education and medicine: Mrs. Sandhya Awasthi, Director Principal, DPS, Greater Noida; Ms. Minakshi Kushwaha, Principal, Birla Vidya Niketan, Pushp Vihar; and Dr. Puja Grover Kapoor, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Paras Hospital, Gurgaon. The session was moderated by Ms. Roopali Dhawan, Head, HT Education. Read the excerpts of the discussion below and click here to watch the full video. 

Ms. Sandhya Awasthi, Director Principal of Delhi Public School, Greater Noida 
“Exams have always been stressful on students but now the students show signs of sudden stress, stress of being left out and that of the unknown,” said Ms. Awasthi. She also added that many even admit the fear of academic loss. The three kinds of stresses that are now on the rise include, according to Ms. Awasthi are: Social stress of being confined to limited spaces, trauma of losing loved ones and inability to share it and the added woes of economic pressure that they see their families undergoing.  

“Children often refrain from sharing, to shield adults from further distress. As a result, focus should be given on socio-emotional healing, peer to peer interaction, and support of teachers,” she observed. According to her, the goal should be to build an ecosystem where a child feels secured to talk about everything, be it good or bad and knows that their issues will be addressed delicately and with a lot of care.  

“As educators we must accept all children as they are. We should give a momentum to the ongoing conversation about mental well-being by introducing efforts to bridge the learning and social-emotional gaps mindfully, without rushing into it. These can be only achieved through wider outreach programmes, where receptive parents can work alongside teachers to build long-term resilience among kids,” she added.   

Dr. Puja Grover Kapoor, Consultant Paediatric Neurologist, Paras Hospital, Gurgaon 
According to Dr. Kapoor, several studies are now being conducted regarding pre-pandemic versus post-pandemic mental states of children. “Mental health concerns have increased by five times, which are alarming and need to be addressed immediately. Everyone has to come together and help out, be it parents, educators, or doctors,” she said. She suggested that parents should look for certain red flags. These include absence of expressivity, growing aggression, secretiveness, OCDs, addiction to the internet, eating disorders, and lack of interest in academics. "If a previously cheerful child shows sudden signs of gloominess, it’s time to address this transformation. Other significant factors to look for include, noticeable change in grades, irregular sleep cycle, anxiety, depression, and most importantly suicidal tendencies,” she explains.  To tackle this widespread problem, Dr. Kapoor advises parents to reach out to teachers as they’re the first and daily points of contact for their children. “For parents, the big take-home message is to give your child some time, be patient and above all initiate daily conversation with them,” she says.  

Ms. Minakshi Kushwaha, Principal, Birla Vidya Niketan, Pushp Vihar 
Addressing the crucial role of teachers in tackling mental health issues among students, Ms. Kushwaha shared how she and her peers across the world are trying to notice daily behavioural changes in children. They are also focussing on finding suitable remedies to help them out. “Since there’s a significant lack of communication, it’s difficult for us, the teachers, to identify signs of mental health issues, but we’re trying our best,” she says.  

Some of the methods that schools are already employing include, counselling sessions, trainings, workshops, orientations for all teaching and non-teaching staff. According to Ms. Kushwaha, the best way forward is for parents to share inputs with teacher, match observations with one another, research on the prolonged symptoms and work together to find a deeper and permanent solution. “It’s time for parents to realise that mental health issues are for real. If physical ailment needs diagnosis, so does mental issues,” she further elaborated.  

Ms. Kushwaha also mentioned that at home, parents should try and bond with their kids simply by discussing their own problems with them. This is how the children realise they aren’t alone in this fight. According to her, the major issues to address are huge gaps in academics, aggressive behaviour, disobedience and being immensely demanding. “The goal is to address these issues as one big family. Start from scratch, take it forward by building a positive mindset; we shall overcome!” she said.  

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