By Pritika Singh
As a society, we all want our children to be healthy and happy. Although we are increasingly aware of the importance of mental health among children; sometimes we forget that mental health is just as important as physical health. In fact, despite this growing recognition, many parents and educators are still unsure of how to support children’s mental health, and the role that school education can play in promoting it.
The Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2019 revealed that at least 50 million children in India were affected by mental health issues, even before the pandemic and surprisingly 80 to 90% have not pursued any support. Furthermore, in early 2021, a survey by UNICEF and Gallup also showed that children in India seem hesitant to seek out assistance or support for mental stress. The survey that was done among 20,000 children and adults in 21 countries, reported that just 41% of young people in India between the age group of 15-24 years considered that it is good in terms of getting support for mental health problems as compared to 83% across 21 countries.
In India, where mental health issues are often stigmatised, it is especially important to teach children about the importance of mental health and provide them with the tools they need to maintain good mental health. Therefore, one of the most important things parents can do for their children’s mental health is to model good mental health behaviours themselves. This includes talking openly about mental health, prioritising self-care, and seeking help when needed. Children learn a great deal from their parent’s behaviour, and when parents prioritise their own mental health, they are teaching their children to do the same. Parents also need to listen to their children without judgment as children often look for someone who listens to them and validates their feelings.
Another crucial aspect of supporting children’s mental health is to create a safe and supportive home environment. This includes setting boundaries, providing structure and routine, and creating a space where children can express themselves freely. It also means being attentive to signs of distress, such as changes in behaviour or mood, and seeking professional help if needed. Parents should encourage children to participate in physical activities that they enjoy, such as sports, dance, or yoga as it can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Moreover, parents should never dismiss a child’s feelings or tell them to ‘just get over it’. This can make the child feel invalidated and cause them to withdraw. Even criticising or shaming the child can damage their self-esteem and contribute to mental health problems. Additionally, overscheduling can lead to stress and anxiety in children; hence, parents should make sure that their children have time to relax and unwind.
When it comes to education, schools have an important role to play in promoting mental health. Mental health education can help children understand and manage their emotions, build resilience, and develop healthy coping skills. Schools can promote awareness and the importance of mental health by providing resources such as counsellors or mental health professionals, organising mental health awareness campaigns, and integrating mental health education into the curriculum.
Several countries across the world are working towards the inclusion of mental health education at the school level. For instance, Virginia and New York passed legislation in July 2018, making mental health instruction mandatory in public education. Singapore has a programme called ‘REACH’ which offers interventions for students dealing with mental health issues. In India along with providing academic instruction, schools can also teach students about mental health and provide resources and support for students who may be struggling.
Mental health is an essential component of overall health and wellbeing, and it is something that all parents and educators should prioritise. By modelling good mental health behaviours, creating a supportive home environment, and providing mental health education and resources in schools, we can help ensure that our children grow up with the tools they need to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
(The author is a Pritika Singh, CEO at Prayag Hospitals Group. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)