The importance of introducing mental health in the education curriculum in India

The importance of introducing mental health in the education curriculum in India

India has about 250 million children in the school education system. 12% of these are said to suffer from psychiatric disorders. Statistically 1 in 5 children and youth live with a diagnosable emotional, behavioral or mental health disorder. 1 in 10 young people live with a mental health challenge that is severe enough to negatively affect how they function at home, school or in their community.

Children often go through a lot of behavioral, emotional, learning or mental disorders. In fact, up to 50% of these have their onset before the age of 14. These range from anxiety disorders, depression and eating disorders, along with serious psychosocial disabilities.

A school mental health curriculum is thus the way forward in all progressive countries like India. This does not include enhancing the existing syllabi but granting students skills for life. An interactive approach that can be spearheaded by counsellors and mental health experts can be taken forward by all faculty, staff and seniors of every school.

The main objective of introducing a mental health curriculum at school level can promote help-seeking behavior, regarding mental health challenges. Training can be provided to children and adolescents to look after their psychological well-being.

A mental health curriculum in schools should have three essential components –

  • Creating awareness about the importance of mental health – This shall also include tackling the taboo around mental illnesses and sensitization of students towards people and peers struggling with mental health challenges.
  • Encouraging help seeking behavior – Often anyone struggling with a mental health challenge feels isolated, hopeless, and helpless. If students know where and how they can find help, it can actually save many young lives.
  • Suicide and self-harm prevention – Steps that can be taken to ensure that all children can face the pressures and challenges better, and whenever they don’t cope and struggle with thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, they know they are not alone, and help is available.

It is the responsibility of parents, families, communities, teachers and educational institutions to ensure the mental health safety and resilience of children.

Unfortunately, most teachers and school managements are not equipped to deal with mental health challenges among students or to manage the overall emotional well-being of their students.

Mental health education needs to be an integral part of any modern school curriculum.

It means creating and promoting a culture of comfortable, open, safe and convenient mental health conversations, practices and interventions in our day-to-day education planning.

The curriculum must consist of:

  • Mental health awareness and literacy
  • Equipping the students with resilience to deal with the pressures and difficulties of their lives
  • Mental health first aid and psychological first aid training to teachers and anyone dealing with children
  • Regular creation and updating of easy to access multi-lingual online resources for students.

So many parents and families often are in a denial mode about their children’s or their own mental health issues. This happens due to stigma and taboo about mental health in India. A collaborative effort between schools and the parents can lead to the success of any mental health curriculum.

School mental health program (SMHP) has been recognized globally as crucial to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of school going children. Unfortunately, in our country, SMHP is badly neglected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends mental health intervention in schools at four levels:

Level One – Promotion of psychosocial competence

Level Two – Mental health literacy integrated into public health

Level Three – Bringing focus on those children who might need additional psychosocial interventions

Level Four – Specific support and inclusion for those children who are in need of professional help for their mental health.

These levels can all be achieved successfully by a little more funding and planning by the government at various levels. Also, positive changes in families and communities can encourage and support this integration of mental health into routine curriculum at school. Just like children do a lot of extra-curricular activities in school that parents and families support, and schools facilitate, mental health education and literacy can also be one such area of interest for everybody. The healthier our next generation is physically and mentally, the stronger an asset they will become for the society and the country.

About the Author

Pooja Priyamvada is an author, columnist, translator, online content & Social Media consultant and poet. Currently she is Academic Director at International Institute of Mass Media (IIMM) Delhi. Her ebooks Mental Health: A Primer and Lessons for Life from Death: Papa & I and translation Land of Ghosts: Iceland are available on Amazon Kindle.

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