New Delhi: One in four adolescents is known to have depression by the time they reach the age of 25, according to World Health Organisation. However, most mental health problems, though manageable, are not identified early.
Mother’s International School is one of the few schools in Delhi that focuses on mental health issues. Principal Sanghamitra Ghosh says children with depression are often as young as 11 years old.
At the school, class teachers hold a period called ‘circle time’ once a week. The period allows for informal interaction between teachers and students, for students to speak and for teachers to hear them.
All primary teachers also undergo a one-year training programme with Children First, a professional agency, to help understand the emotional needs of students.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Amit Sen points out that what is often perceived as bad and difficult behavior, in reality, is adolescent depression.
Schools have to recognise and respond to the mental health and well-being of the students. They have to address school violence, sexual harassment, bullying and substance abuse, he said.
The Indian School in Delhi has a unique room called the Reflection Room. It’s a space where anybody and everybody can go to and be alone. Here, if they want, they can cry or laugh and can visit the room if they are tired, anxious or happy.
Shweta Singh, peer educator said, “You have to have the strength to bear all the pressure around you which includes peer pressure, educational pressure, parents’ pressure.”
The Indian School also sends five to six students for training as peer educators. Conducted by Expressions India, the Life Skills and School Wellness Program gives students skills to help other students. The peer educators say their perspective changed after they attended the workshops.
Dr Jitendra Nagpal, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, said, “There are nearly 18,000 CBSE schools. If each of them has even 5 to 10 peer educators of adolescent health and well-being, I think that’s a remarkable step forward.”
The peer educators can go back to their school and create an ambience of ‘no drug zone’, ‘no bullying zone’, ‘no violence zone’ and ‘gender appreciation zone’ in the school, he suggests.
Child mental health promotion has received low priority so far, but has recently got the attention of policy makers. A number of schools lack counsellors or support services for mental health care.
Studies show that school-based mental health programmes enhance positive thinking and improve coping skills, especially those that engage with the family.