One in seven youngsters in India between the age group of 15 to 24 years old, which is 14% of the country’s population, undergo some form of mental health issues including depression, a UNICEF report shows. The IITs alone account for half of the suicides in the country since 2018 among students triggered by academic stress, poor mental health concerns, data presented in the Parliament by the Ministry of Education revealed. “While the impact of this on children’s lives is incalculable, continued negligence of mental health can cause India an economic loss as high as $1.03 trillion between 2012-2030,” according to World Health Organisation (WHO).
Interestingly, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan chaired a high level meeting on Sunday to review the mental wellbeing of students. The Minister has directed officials from top educational regulatory bodies such as The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), among others to establish a grievance redressal system with shared responsibility. The Ministry has announced that it will soon come up with a comprehensive framework of operational guidelines to institutionalise mental health programmes in educational spaces. “The Ministry of Education is committed to ensure physical, psychological, and emotional well-being of the students,” Pradhan said.
However, little information is available on the implementation of the mental health guidelines already in place for schools in India- reflecting disparity between policy and its implementation. Last year in September, The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) issued a manual for schools for early identification of mental health problems in students. CBSE also has a manual on mental health and wellbeing for students in lower to higher secondary classes. Besides, the Ministry of Education runs an initiative named, ‘Manodarpan’ to provide mental health related support to students, teachers and families during the COVID outbreak and beyond.
Experts suggest that to combat mental health issues effectively among students India needs to shift from a piecemeal approach- unsystematic partial measures, to a long-term comprehensive approach wherein mental health is integrated in educational services. “School mental health programme (SMHP) is globally recognised to improve mental wellbeing of students. A systematic implementation of this across India can make a difference,” a study by Devvarta Kumar, Professor, Department of Clinical Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, said.