How Can Students’ Mental Health Be Supported Virtually?
Mental health is not a destination, but a process. It’s about how you drive, not where you’re going.– Noam Shpancer, PhD.
Human beings are social creatures. We need the companionship of others to thrive in life. And we need the strength of our connections. It has a huge impact on our mental health and happiness. Being socially connected to others can ease stress, anxiety, and depression. It can boost self-worth, provide comfort and joy, prevent loneliness, and even add years to your life.
I live in India- a socially backward country with very little awareness about mental health. And there are a lot of taboos and myths associated with it. Mostly, only the rich and elite accept the existence of mental health and work towards improving it. Indians believe that if a person is going for therapy, they are incapable of functioning independently and look down upon them. The education system in our country puts a lot of pressure on the students and leads to the deterioration of their mental health. There are a lot of competitive exams in our country with a very slim rate of success.
Millions of students appear for these exams and only a few thousand qualify. Parents, coaching institutes, relatives and peers put a lot of pressure on the students and if they are unable to pass the exam, their mental health gets affected badly. Female students are often subjected to moral policing and dating is considered a crime in colleges and schools alike. According to an article by the Hindu, at least 28 people from the age group of 15-29 commit suicide every day in India. This number has increased massively due to the pandemic.
Suicide and mental health:
According to NCRB data, 10,159 students died by suicide in 2018, which is an increase from 9,905 in 2017, and 9,478 in 2016. 2019 reported a further spike of 3.4% suicide rates. With classes going online, only 8%-10% of students can attend and the rest of the 90% of students fear missing out on studies. Sitting at home has exhausted the students mentally and they are feeling low. Students get a lot of assignments and are not able to complete them on time. They are spending most of their time on social media which has a lot of ill effects on their mental health.
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Using social media excessively can fuel depression and anxiety. For those who receive free government education, the conditions are worse as they have nothing to do and are asked to perform odd jobs in order to support their parents in these troubling times. They need more attention as their life seems quite unpredictable at the moment.
I attend a private school in New Delhi and the students at my school are fairly aware of mental health and advocate improving it. However, there are some students who have lost touch with their friends and do not interact much with anyone. When someone does not have interaction with anyone, they cannot express their feelings and often feel depressed.
Impact of online education:
Online classes are not at all interactive as everyone switches off their mics and videos and the teacher just keeps speaking. In school, they interacted and worked together. They could express our feelings without any hesitation and their friends would be there to help us. I talked to a lot of my peers about their mental health and the challenges they are facing. After careful rumination, I realised that they just felt isolated and unsupported. They just wanted meaningful social interaction and thus I came up with a few ideas and discussed them with my teachers.
How we can support:
We can support students’ mental health by organizing webinars with experts on mental health. In these webinars, students can ask questions and deliberate. The experts can answer queries regarding various subjects like – mood, productivity, time management, and other such issues.
Teachers can be more encouraging and could often engage students in interactive activities that can be performed online. We can organise quizzes, rapid fires, puzzles, and other such competitions to grab their pupil’s attention and encourage them. We can promote the formation of support groups where the students can talk and help themselves. These support groups will help them realise that they are not alone or weird and a lot of their peers are experiencing similar problems and they can help each other go through this.
Teachers can also plan essay writing, article writing, drawing and painting, speech and debate competitions for their students and reward them if they win. This will help to alleviate their mood. Lastly, we can create awareness about the risks of social media and its relation to bad mental health. They can be shown in movies such as ‘The Social Dilemma’ and ‘The Circle’ that highlight the ill effects of social media on young people. We have to make the online method more social and interactive to help the students.
“What mental health needs are more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close
By Angad Wadhwa
15 years old, New Delhi