Mandating a mental health curriculum in a post-pandemic world
The pandemic has brought about a transformation in the education sector worldwide and the importance of understanding and emphasizing mental health to the forefront.
Lockdowns, closures and subsequently imposing restrictions led to schools overnight transforming their classroom environment learning to the online mode and eventually to hybrid mode as the situation reasonably improved. Disruption of school routines for nearly two years- has led to significant learning gaps among students, not just academically, but on the emotional front as well. This has led to increased concern among parents with many of them reaching out for child therapy to address concerns pertaining to behavioural, emotional and academic-related issues.
However, reaching out for child therapy and receiving guidance from a child psychologist is possible when parents of the concerned children understand the importance of reaching out to a mental health professional for addressing the youth’s mental health needs.
The awareness of seeking child therapy by scheduling appointments with a child psychologist is mostly confined to urban metropolitan areas of the country or relatively socio-economic prosperous tier 2 cities of India. However, there are many parents and children in India who have been impacted due to sudden school closures and have faced learning as well as emotional losses- but are not able to put a name to what they are experiencing and many times are not even aware of what they are going through. They sense discomfort in their children, but often don’t know how to handle it. Lack of adequate knowledge and awareness about mental health has often led to frequent discord between parents and children with no concrete solution in sight. When the root cause of the matter was not addressed at early stages, it grew big and in extreme cases, has also led to bullying, harassment and even death by suicide.
A mental health curriculum for schools can help in bridging the gap between mental health professionals and children who lack access to the required resources and knowledge by encouraging the former to facilitate mental health education sessions in a classroom setup. By normalizing dialogue around issues that are otherwise stigmatized, children come to understand that there is a safe space, where they can be themselves and discuss things which they may not be able to do so otherwise. Keeping this in mind, Minds Matter- a progressive mental health curriculum for schools was launched at a Pan-India level in 2020. The mental health curriculum demonstrates a gradual understanding of mental health and wellness and views success in terms of behavioural changes.
According to data published in 2018, there are only 898 psychologists against 20,250 required in the country and less than 900 psychiatric social workers against the 37,000 needed. This has given rise to the importance of community based mental health services. Existing research published by Hinkle (2014) states that long years of training in the mental health arena is not necessary for learning how to offer help to the emotionally distressed and it is also a viable way to assist the never-served.
Given the existing research, as well as the reality of the lack of availability of sufficient counsellors in schools to address, child and adolescent mental health needs; Minds Matter core curriculum- a mental health curriculum to be facilitated by teachers was launched in various schools in India and overseas. The idea was to train teachers to be mental health champions and educate the students on ways to manage their mental health, learn about healthy coping mechanisms and identify the areas of concern as well as stages where further psycho-social intervention may be required.
It has given the students the tools and knowledge to adapt their behaviour to the ever-changing circumstances and made them more self-aware. The students have, over a period of time, come to identify their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes, ways to manage their feelings, regulate their emotions and understand the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship. It has helped them to identify ways to keep themselves safe in the online and offline space.
Schools, where teachers have been the mental health champions, have also reported an overall improvement in their relationship with their pupils as well as a marked improvement in the relationship between the parent and the child. They have adopted healthy coping mechanisms as well as have come to understand the importance of expressing gratitude. Children have learnt to deal with bullying effectively and come up with solutions to relationship-related concerns in schools where the Minds Matter curriculum was implemented.
The idea of creating and mandating mental health awareness through a school-based system will not only help the youth of today to become self-aware and manage their thoughts, emotions, feelings and behaviour, but it will also help them to understand when they need to seek help from a child psychologist-, if needed.
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