The Need for Mental Health Education in School Curriculum

Dec 7, 2021
 

Mental health and its importance is the talk of the town but in a hush-hush tone. Yes! We are living in the 21st century where we have now procured the coronavirus vaccine but have not done anything to de-stigmatize mental health.

Correction - a lot of people are doing a lot but is it enough? Are we doing enough to talk out loud about mental health, especially in schools — the primary stage of everyone’s lives?

If you think students are adult enough to study world wars, trigonometry, and chemical equations, they are old enough to know what is going on in their heads! No, we don’t mean the nervous system. We mean mental health.

But first, let us first talk a little about mental health in general.

The Whats and Whys of Mental Health (a general overview)


  •  What is mental health?

Mental health includes a person’s psychological, emotional, and social well-being.
It helps in determining how we all handle our thoughts & emotions, how we deal with stress and make choices.
 
  • What are mental health problems?
Mental health problems and psychiatric disorders are medical illnesses (just like any other illness) that range from all the worries, uneasiness, disorders of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. These include depression, anxiety, stress, eating and sleeping disorders. These affect your mood, thinking, and behaviour and can cause problems in daily life, at home, school, etc. Like a lot of people say(but shouldn’t), ‘It is just inside your head, nothing else ’  (well of course! Where else would it be?).

  • Why do they happen?
 Although there could be many reasons behind mental health problems, some of the factors that contribute to them include:

- life experiences (abuse, trauma, addiction, lifestyle)
- biological factors (brain chemistry)
- family history (of mental health problems)

  •  What are the early warning signs/symptoms of mental health problems?
Although one should always go with a clinical diagnosis before coming to any conclusion, if you are experiencing some behavioural changes, you might have mental health problems. Some of the behavioural changes that can occur, especially in young kids, due to mental health issues include:

- low energy
- feeling numb
- withdrawal from people and activities
- feeling hopeless and helpless
- extreme mood swings
- loss of appetite 
- insomnia
- confused thinking
- reduced ability to concentrate
- excessive fears or worries

Mental Health and School Students

Did you know 1 in 5 children have diagnosable mental health disorders or behavioural issues which are severe enough to affect their lives at school and home?

Many times these issues go unnoticed, leading to severe consequences.

  • How do mental health problems affect young kids/school students? 

Mental health problems are common and often occur at a young age. According to a survey, 10-20% of children and adolescents have a mental health problem of some type. These issues can negatively impact their relationships with family and friends and can cause long-term consequences, personally and professionally.

Mental health problems can affect many areas of students’ lives. They can- 

- Cause cognitive disturbance 
- Reduce the quality of life 
- Severely affect physical and emotional health 
- Cause lack of motivation, addictions & distractions 
- Lead to sleeping and eating disorders 
- Cause mood swings 
- Cause stress, anxiety, or depression 
- Result in poor academic performance 
- Make them withdraw themselves  from discussions and other classroom activities

  • Implementation of mental health education in the school curriculum
It is not easy for anyone to talk about their mental health problems. Thanks (not really)to the stigma around it which has made mental health a taboo. 

Students with mental health problems are often ignored or mocked. The negative attitude of people and stereotypes around the topic can lead to shame, distress, despair and make one inhibited to open up and share. 

Now is the right time to end all of it. Educating the youth and everyone around them can help in normalizing the conversation and dissipate the stigma around it. 

Some of the ways with which mental health education can be implemented at schools are- 

1. Strategic planning 

Doctors, psychologists, counsellors in collaboration with the school authorities should first educate the teachers and parents about mental health and its problems among children. They must be made aware of the dire consequences of poor mental health, how to identify and recognise poor mental health and what next steps should be undertaken to help the child.

2. Awareness at the campus 

Early detection of stress, anxiety, and other issues can get a student immediate help. For that, students need to know everything about mental health. 

Adding mental health to the school curriculum is one way of doing it where the students are taught about everything that goes inside their heads. It is one way of normalising the talks regarding mental health around them. 

This involves teaching them about maintaining positive mental health. Students must understand the gravity of the matter so that they not only take care of themselves but also remain empathic towards other students. Concepts like self-love, self-care and mindfulness should be introduced. 

3. Recognition of the problem 

Undiagnosed mental health problems can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and can worsen the condition. It is important to teach them the early warning signs of mental health problems so that they can recognise the underlying issues and take the necessary steps to accept and work for their betterment. They should also be provided with tips and strategies to cope with mental health challenges. 

Authorities must take initiative for screening of risk factors and introduction of preventive programs. They should keep a constant check on every student’s academic and social performance to detect or prevent any issues. 

4. Encouraging them to talk and take help (normalising mental health)

Having mental health issues is normal. Anyone can have them. Students must know that it is okay to talk about their mental health and they must be open about their feelings. Schools need to create a safe and comfortable environment for students to be able to trust the authorities and vent their hearts in front of them. Also, it is not always easy to self-detect the signs or talk about the issues. So, rather than waiting for them to approach the authorities, the authorities should take a step towards them and talk by organizing sessions with a counsellor.

5. Supporting their studies with the right solutions 

One of the biggest reasons that foster mental health problems among many students is study pressure. With such an extensive curriculum to cover, many of them give in to stress, anxiety, and even depression. Exams, and subsequent poor grades, further add to the problems. So, it’s important for schools to arm students with the right solutions and resources that help the latter with studies, ensuring they prepare for the exams properly and score well. For the CBSE curriculum, educational apps for students like Xam idea can be an excellent choice. The app is already trusted by thousands of students. Providing students with such resources and applications can be pivotal in helping them deal with study-stress adequately, supporting and even improving their mental health.

6. Give them a fun break!

Taking care of mental health is not a one-time thing. Schools should take initiative to add some fun and refreshment for the students throughout the day. We all know that taking a break is as important as studying. So give them some break from heavy textbooks and the closed walls of the classroom. 

Mental health curriculum is not about adding more syllabus but important life skills that are more open, interactive and interesting to get active participation by all.  

Get them involved in some mind-relaxing activities in between classes that can help them get refreshed for the next class and increase their focus on studies. Also, weekly or monthly meditation, therapy, and other activities should be done to promote mindfulness. 

  • What could this implementation do?
Systematic implementation of mental health education in the school curriculum could do a lot more than we can anticipate. It could -
 

- Make it easy for students to open up about their feelings.

- Make them more positive and confident. 

- Help them identify the issues, accept them and not feel ashamed to seek out assistance.

 - Make them feel inclusive.

- Help them get proper guidance to lead a stable and healthy lifestyle.

- Keep them away from resorting to addictions, self-harm, or other wrongful means.


At Last, what (more) we would like to say?


The toughest battles are the ones that one has to fight with themselves’Students already have a lot on their plate – exams, tests, homework, and whatnot! Mental health problems aren’t the things they should be dealing with at a young age, that too alone. Mental health education in school can significantly help in improving a student’s mental health which will eventually help them in reforming their current and future life. Because it is not just a child we are talking about, it is about a future doctor, engineer, pilot, writer, artist, teacher, or scientist. So, ideally, we all don’t need to wait for ‘May mental health awareness month’ or ‘National mental health awareness day’ to talk about it. Mental health should be talked about frequently, openly and normally with students to make them comfortable. ‘For one might not be able to control the issues, but can always choose how to respond to them’.  And so to get them to respond the right way, the whispers need to stop and mental health should be discussed out loud.