We are in the 21st century and as we take a closer look at the issues that matter to us most in this rapidly changing society, it becomes imperative that we do an appraisal of the psychosocial needs of children and adolescents who would lead the country in future.
Children are the most important asset of any country and the most important human resource available for overall development. Schools are one of the places outside the home where children can acquire new knowledge and skills to grow into productive and capable citizens, who can become involved in, support and help their communities to grow and prosper.
The majority of Indian schools have no counsellors or school social workers, yet they are being asked to deal more and more with the mental health needs of their students. In addition, reports of increased bullying and school violence underline the importance of recognising and responding to the agony many students experience in school.
It is worth remembering that in India, children and adolescents constitute 40 to 44 per cent of the one billion population. An Indian Council of Medical Research study in 2001 found that 12.8 per cent of children and teens suffer from mental and behavioural disorders.
There are many appropriate prevention and early intervention models targeting special need children, who have become more materialistic than their age would permit. Successful models integrate the school, family and community in co-ordinating services and instituting reform. Mental health professionals are gearing up to help schools identify and implement appropriate programmes depending on the needs and resources of the school system.
Universal prevention programmes address the school system as a whole and aim to better the overall educational climate by coordinating community resources. Specific intervention and prevention models target a wide range of risk behaviours, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse and bullying, and specific instances of violence.
School-based mental health programmes can be environment-centred or child-centred.
The environment-centered approach aims to improve the educational climate of the school and to provide opportunities for the child to utilise the healthy school programme. The child-centred approach includes individual mental health consultations and specific problem-focused interventions, as well as more general classroom programmes to improve coping skills, social support system, and the self-esteem of the child.
The key steps in setting up a school’s mental health service would include establishing a team, assessment of the school and community environment, development of a plan, and monitoring and evaluation.
Therefore, it would suffice to conclude that school plays a crucial role in the development of the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional and moral functions and competencies of a child. In addition to the family, schools are crucial in building or undermining self-esteem and a sense of competence. School mental health programmes are effective in improving learning and the mental well-being of students. When teachers are actively involved in mental health programmes, the interventions can reach a great number of children. In addition, school counsellors and their profile needs a boost to match their growing responsibility.
The author is a senior consultant psychiatrist with Moolchand Medcity and Vimhans, New Delhi. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, marked ‘Dr Nagpal’