Indian Schools and Children’s Mental Health

We are born in a world where the conception is that only a certain kind of ‘success’ makes you valuable. This idea is perpetuated right from the start. So children are increasingly spending more time in tuition centres and coaching classes, right from the moment they get back home from school.

We grew up with the idea that success is more important than happiness. In order to be successful, one needs to excel in academics, specifically in fields that are considered ‘important’. Everything else is considered a waste of time. The pressure put on children by both parents and schools is unfathomable.

All the system is concerned with is marks. The amount of knowledge being gained by the children is not even put under consideration unless they have a ‘perfect’ or nearly perfect score.

How is it fair to subject the young minds of children to such brutal pressure?

Everyone is so busy pushing their child in the race of being successful that they forgot to teach them how to be happy, how to accept and be resilient in the face of difficulties like failures.

Schools are like their second home because of how much time they spend there and because of the way schools impact a child’s life. School is the place where children learn to do a lot, starting from the most basic things like holding a pencil in their hands to complex things like friendship, teamwork, among others.

Why, then, does mental health education fall through the cracks of all that we learn in schools? Why is it still such a big taboo?

There are many children who have suffered and are still suffering silently because they have no one to turn to. I myself have faced this issue and when I tried telling my teacher about it, all she did was dismiss me my problem. Not only was she insensitive about the entire issue, but she also insulted me in front of the entire class.

This incident was very difficult for me and left me unsettled for a long time. It was astonishing to be at the receiving end of so much harshness, especially from someone who I thought cared for my wellbeing.

The issue is a lack of acknowledgement and awareness regarding mental health. It also includes the myth that children are too young for experiencing any real signs of distress (as the old adage goes, ‘abhi tumne life mein dekha hi kya hai!‘). In my opinion, it’s completely absurd and inhumane to belittle and invalid someone’s feelings just because of their age.

Instead of shying away from talking about mental health, people should, in fact, acknowledge it more. Academic pressure is a legitimate thing that most of the students undergo, one of the reasons being a severe fear of examination.

Another tragic outcome of the academic pressure (which people still don’t take seriously) is the rising number of suicides by students in our nation. How long before we start to acknowledge and address the student suicide crisis that we have been facing?

It is suffocating for children to struggle with all the stress and pressure in isolation, thus worsening their sense of alienation. What most of the children lack is a safe space for them to talk about their feelings. Most of the times, their parents are too busy with their work to even listen to their problems, let alone help them with it. And of course, the way we dismiss the immensity of children’s distress and autonomy only adds to this.

It is high time that schools and families come together to ensure that they are able to provide children with a comfortable, non-judgemental and safe environment to talk to. It is important that schools make mental health training a compulsion for all faculty members and parents as children are impressionable and it is the responsibility of the elders around them to be considerate of their words and actions.

Let us stop belittling and overlooking what children go through and start helping them to understand a journey of emotional and mental wellbeing.

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