Education is a fundamental stage in the life of a child that the child passes from the age of 3 years. But what has become of education now? Almost nothing but rote learning and rat racing. Instead of instilling the necessary life skills, it has become a stressful necessity. The gap between what education is and what it should have been constantly widening. The image that presents itself is breathtaking and requires immediate attention. Research by the Indian Council of Medical Research suggests that 12-13% of students in India suffer from mental, emotional and communication problems. Students all over the world are living with diagnosed mental disorders. However, the situation in India is worse. Most students are not diagnosed or treated. The stigma surrounding mental health still exists. The Indian Journal of Psychiatry found in 2019 that 50 million children in India had mental health issues without any support. These problems that seem so common can have a drastic impact on them. The mental health of students is so badly affected that it also leads to suicide. A survey by the American College Health Association (2015) suggests that the most common mental health problems among college students are:
Stress – We can define stress as an internal condition often caused by physiological, social or environmental factors. Now the interesting part to note is that stress isn’t really bad. We all need a certain level of stress to function on a daily basis. This form of stress is called “eustress” and is considered a good form of stress. Any form of stress beyond this point is often referred to as âdistressâ. Almost 30% of students seem to be in distress about something or the other. A student can be stressed out by something as low as poor grades on a test or missing an assignment deadline and something as important as family deaths, financial strains, etc. Stress seems to be the most important and starting factor which gives way to other mental health problems.
Anxiety – The Oxford Dictionary defines anxiety as a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something the outcome of which is uncertain. As we read above, a student regularly faces a number of stressors, some of which are very anxiety-provoking. Especially in this era of a pandemic, fear of uncertainty and a blurry vision of the future have sparked anxious thoughts. It is reported that 22% of college students struggle with anxiety every day. Anxiety can turn into anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, etc. if it is not identified early and can have serious repercussions on a student’s personal and social life.
Difficulty sleeping – We all know how important 8 hours of sleep is for a healthy body and mind. Does everyone sleep as much? Students, of course, don’t. There can be a number of reasons behind this, but the role of academic pressure cannot be ignored. Overworked students (almost 20%) feel the need to sacrifice their sleep to meet high academic demands without realizing the dangers and adverse health effects. Lower levels of focus and attention, distraction, irritable mood are common side effects. Sleeping difficulties can also lead to sleep disturbances like insomnia or hypersomnia in no time.
Depression – Depression is identified as a separate mood disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association. Simply put, depression can be defined as lingering feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Daily stress, anxiety, sleep disturbances can easily lead to depression. 14% of students said they often feel depressed and did not know what to do about it. Depression can be life threatening because it can lead to suicide. Research by Kumar et al. (2013) indicate that India has reached an alarming stage of suicide rates among students with 26 suicides reported every 24 hours due to issues such as drugs, broken families, arguments with friends and breakups. . Prolonged exposure to such stressors leads to long-term physiological and emotional disturbances, which seriously hamper a student’s learning and development.
Eating Disorders – The prevalence of eating disorders is highest among college students. These disorders are characterized by eating too much (bulimia nervosa), not eating enough (anorexia nervosa) or binge eating. Students also indulge in unhealthy eating habits due to peer pressure. It is also hypothesized that not being able to do well in studies can trigger a feeling of worthlessness in students, which could influence the feeling of unworthiness in all respects. They start to be aware of little things and start to judge themselves too harshly. They start to develop bodily problems and compare themselves to others. This often ends with them being either bulimic or anorexic and their mental health deteriorating further.
Substance Abuse and Addiction – Mental health problems are not desirable for anyone for obvious reasons. How to face such challenges is a question that everyone asks. The student community has found a solution to this too, but unfortunately unhealthy! Substance use (or abuse) is a coping mechanism for many when dealing with stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Peer pressure is the second most common reason. While the substance can provide temporary relief, it is well known that it can be highly addictive and harmful to an individual’s mind and body.
When talking about the mental health of students, it is inevitable to talk about the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Educational institutions not only provide academic knowledge, but serve as second homes for students. A student has an emotional attachment to the institutions with which he is associated. This pandemic has taken that experience away from students. As we saw earlier in this article, fear and uncertainty about the future contribute to poor mental health in individuals. Forced to actively participate in academic activities despite battling anxiety, stress, isolation and fear only resulted in poor performance and failure to achieve academic goals. With all the shift to online mode, it has become difficult for Indian students to meet the demands of digitized classrooms, especially those with little or no access to online resources. We have heard of cases of suicide among students from disadvantaged backgrounds due to the inability to purchase a laptop for study online. The pandemic has disrupted both a student’s education and leisure time, simultaneously raising concerns for financial and health stability.
The big question is what can be done about it?
How can we really protect young minds? The first step is to raise awareness. According to a survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup (2021), we have learned that young Indians are reluctant to seek help to cope with mental health issues. Only 41% of 15-24 year olds in India said it was good to get support for mental health issues. If young minds themselves do not understand the importance of mental health, what will we do with more resources? The stigma attached to mental health is disturbing and shocking. People often treat people with mental health problems as dangerous and âcrazyâ. The difference between having a mental illness / disorder and being in good mental health is not yet clear among the Indian population. A third of young people display poor knowledge of mental health problems and negative attitudes towards people with mental health problems. These people are also not able to identify mental health problems, nor do they believe in receiving treatment. We must ensure that we create a sensitive, empathetic and protective environment for our learners. Awareness programs for parents, educators and caregivers need to be standardized. People should be prepared to have open discussions on such issues.
Now awareness is certainly an important step but it is not enough. Equally important is the next step of providing effective and efficient mental health resources and services. We do not have enough mental health professionals to meet the demands of society. The professionals who work in this field are overused and underpaid. A school with thousands of children has 2-3 school counselors. Central universities do not have counseling facilities or if they do, the ratio there is also bewildering. There is virtually no government funding to avail of mental health resources. We have plans for physical health, but we have none for our mind. The State of the World’s Children 2021 calls on governments and public and private sector partners to promote mental health for all children and adolescents. It is the need of the hour to invest urgently in the resources of prevention and intervention. Promoting mental health not only in education but also in the health and social sectors can help close the gap that has been created. It is not something that can happen overnight, but enormous efforts are required on all sides.
To sum up, a quote from the Dalai Lama is perfect: âWhen we educate the minds of our young people, we must not forget to educate their hearts. “