Student mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic
Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” – C.S. Lewis. The above quote highlights the ignorance, stigmas, and misconceptions around mental health problems and how this has become an increasing need of the hour to make people aware and liberal in their thoughts to seek help from professionals. Before diving further, let’s first understand what student mental health is.
Importance of mental health
Mental Health is a state of emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is also related to our ability to handle stress, anxiety, make choices, and relate to others. The importance of mental health can’t be neglected at any stage in the life cycle, whether it’s childhood or adolescence. Mental health affects the way we think, act, and feel. Thus, issues that cause a disturbance in thinking, emotional or behavioral ability make it difficult to cope with the regular life routines and are termed mental illness or disorder.
Awareness about mental health
Although the awareness about mental health has increased yet on an almost daily basis, we see news of people succumbing to their mental illness and taking extreme steps like suicide. These days numerous reports have highlighted the mental health crisis arising among Indian youth. The more significant issue is the level of ignorance and unawareness regarding it among school and college-going students. As per a study by Fortis, 65% of counselors believe that students are unaware of common mental illnesses, and 91% of participants believe that educational institutions don’t educate the students regarding mental health, leading them to turn to social media for help.
Stress among students
The high rate of stress among students leads to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. The pressure starts at a tender age when students are in the 11th standard and pick their subjects of preference. Without understanding their interests, aptitude, or passion, parents force their children to choose subjects and career streams. Many students can’t even answer why they are studying a particular subject. The pressure only increases as college begins. Those years are more stressful as it is the time to decide the future course of life, and hence students have real-time responsibilities and career prospects to look onto. Moreover, the physical and mental health changes, the separation from parents, and a new environment put more pressure on them.
None can disagree with the academic pressures that students face and how easily such pressures are normalized by parents and teachers as an ideal environment to learn to cope with high pressures in the workplace. The academic pressure mounts when the child is unhappy with not being able to perform compared to his peers because he was forced into this course and could not pursue his interests. This is where career counselors can come to rescue. Counsel Lab is a great platform where young minds can get the right guidance and discover where they belong.
It can be challenging to recognize mental health issues in children as symptoms vary from age to age, and children are generally not able to describe how they feel or why are they behaving in a certain way. There are specific common issues and warning signs that can help in the diagnosis of mental health disorders.
Common Disorders among Children
- Anxiety Disorders
- Depression and other Mood Disorder
- Eating Disorder
- Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
Out of the disorders, as mentioned above, depression and anxiety are mostly identified in students. Let us see what the signs of depression and anxiety are.
Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety in Students
- No longer enjoy the things they loved
- Prolonged tiredness or lethargy
- Avoiding social interactions
- Hurting oneself
- Talking about death or suicide
- Extreme anger or irritability
- Out-of-control behavior that can be harmful
- Drastic changes in mood, behavior or personality
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Loss of sleep
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches
- Lack of focus or concentration
- A drastic change in academic performance
- Avoiding or missing school/college
Now when the parents, teachers, or friends identify these early signs, the
following steps can be taken to help the student who is fighting mental health issues.
How to help students dealing with mental health issues?
- Get Rid of Stigma: In April, the Government of Maharashtra launched a toll-free 24/7 helpline for people to reach out and seek help. Out of 45000 calls received in two months, around 20% of calls were disconnected even before talking to mental health counselors, thus highlighting the stigma around mental health. Studies by Fortis have shown that students are unaware or have very little knowledge about student mental health issues, and the misconceptions don’t let them communicate about their problems to their kith and kin.
One more stigma is around the role of career counselors in shaping the career of individuals and Counsel Lab has taken the responsibility to increase the importance of career counselling. They provide a platform where students and parents can interact with experts first for free and then they can become a permanent part of Counsel Lab’s family.
- Change the attitude towards mental health issues: When students try to
communicate with peers and teachers, they generally receive wrong,
paternalistic, or moralistic advice that could do more harm. General statements like it’s all in your mind or brushing away issues by calling them Monday blues add to the problem. Thus, it is the responsibility of school administration and parents to spread awareness and create a safe environment for anyone dealing with mental health issues.
- Ensure availability of Student Counselling Centres: The non-availability or a mere weekly visit of counselors is also a problem as students, even if they want to talk, do not find the counselors on campus. While premium government institutions like IITs have made it mandatory to have an on-resident psychologist, this is not a common scenario in other educational institutions. Such mechanisms are non-existent in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. However, this shall be the mandatory requirement in every educational institution to have an on-campus counselor. When students want to communicate their difficulties, they can turn to professional help.
Mental health problems
Counsel Lab has started the movement to bridge the gap between demand and
supply so that student mental health is stabilized. They believe in the first try then pay. Using a combination of AI(psychometric tests) and career experts, Counsel Lab aims at building young leaders of tomorrow. With so many disruptions caused by Covid19, numerous opportunities have developed in the market. Through its E-magazine and
Counsel Kit, Counsel Lab is keeping parents updated about latest industry trends
and providing practical exposure to students via live projects under the guidance of a mentor.
Mental health problems form a vicious circle, and students need the right kind of support, structure, and resources to create a coping mechanism for themselves.
E.g., IISC has a student support system where anyone can reach out to them through email. Volunteer students set up a meeting with them. It is an early detection system where volunteer students analyze if they can handle the situation or the situation needs professional help.
Depression and anxiety are the buzzwords that all the students are aware of, yet they take these issues very lightly, labeling them as just a phase that will pass.
What is urgently needed is the training of more psychologists to handle school
and college-going students and to sensitize them regarding mental health
problems. Not only the psychologist but the support of family, friends, and
teachers is a prerequisite if we want to save our youth from the mental health
crisis. It will be a joint effort and initiatives by community and government that will blow away the clouds of ignorance and bring a ray of hope for students suffering from pain caused by mental illness.