Mind Matters: Prioritizing Student Mental Health and Well-Being

Mind Matters: Prioritizing Student Mental Health and Well-Being

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Student Mental Health and Well-Being

The WHO constitution states that “health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Mental health has a profound impact on our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. It also shapes how we respond to stress, interact with others, and make decisions. Health and happiness are the manifestations of well-being. 

The term “well-being” encompasses various psychological and physical capacities. It further emphasizes that mental health is a state of well-being characterized by self-awareness, the ability to handle everyday challenges, the capacity for productive work, and the ability to contribute to one’s community.

Students face numerous obstacles, with managing their emotions and mental health, navigating relationships, understanding their gender and sexuality, and dealing with academic stress ranking at the top of the list. It is no surprise that many young adults experience mental health problems, such as despair and anxiety, in addition to academic difficulties. As a result, students struggle to achieve their academic goals.

What is depression among children?

Children suffering from depression are at risk for developing severe mood conditions that impact their emotions, thoughts, and actions. It’s a legitimate medical disorder that can seriously affect a child’s quality of life, not merely a passing mood swing or temporary depression. Children’s depression frequently has many underlying causes, including biological, psychological, environmental, and hereditary variables. Children’s depression can also arise from stressful life events, depression in the family history, and variations in the chemistry or structure of the brain.

Symptoms of depression in children can include:

  • Anger or impatience
  • Distancing themselves from former interests and friends
  • Variations in weight or hunger
  • Sleep disorders, such as excessive or insufficient sleep
  • Prolonged sadness, or hopelessness
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Inability to focus or make decisions
  • Unexplained physical illnesses, such as stomachaches or headaches
  • Guilt or a sense of worthlessness
  • Suicidal or fatal thoughts in extreme circumstances

What is anxiety among children?

Anxiety in children refers to a persistent pattern of excessive worry, fear, or nervousness that is more intense and longer-lasting than the typical anxiety experienced by children as they grow and develop. Unlike normal occasional fears or worries, anxiety disorders in children can significantly interfere with their daily activities, social interactions, and overall well-being.

Various types of anxiety disorders can affect children, including:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD): Children with GAD often worry excessively about a variety of things such as school performance, family issues, relationships with peers, and their safety or the safety of loved ones.
  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: This is common in younger children and involves intense anxiety about being away from home or separated from parents or caregivers.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Children with this disorder have an extreme fear of social situations or performance situations where they feel they may be judged or embarrassed.
  • Panic Disorder: This involves sudden and repeated panic attacks—intense periods of fear or discomfort that develop abruptly and peak within minutes, accompanied by physical symptoms like heart palpitations, chest pain, dizziness, or shortness of breath.
  • Specific Phobias: These are intense fears of specific objects or situations, such as fear of insects, heights, or medical procedures.

Symptoms of anxiety in children may include:

  • Excessive worry or fear that is difficult to control
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep disturbances, such as trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Children with anxiety may also avoid situations or activities where they anticipate anxiety, which can limit their experiences and hinder their social and educational development

Why are mental health and well-being crucial in schools?

These aspects hold significant importance in schools because educational institutions have a vital role in assisting students in making healthy choices and understanding how those choices impact their mental health and overall well-being. The formative years of childhood and adolescence are pivotal in shaping long-term attitudes towards one’s well-being and lifestyle preferences. The social and emotional knowledge, skills, and behaviors that young people acquire in the classroom help them develop resilience and lay the foundation for lifelong management of their physical and mental health.

Schools can provide students with accurate information and help them gain a better understanding of the decisions they need to make. Additionally, they can equip students with the intellectual abilities necessary for critical reflection on these decisions and the societal influences that impact them, such as peer pressure, advertising, social media, and family and cultural values.

How to prioritize students’ mental health and well-being?

1. Gain the confidence and trust of parents

Historically, schools have placed a strong emphasis on the academic success of their students. However, as time goes on, schools are adopting a growth mindset and changing their approach to student instruction. A comprehensive education that prepares children for challenges both inside and outside the classroom is now seen as essential. Parents, too, prioritize their children’s happiness, and a positive school experience is a crucial factor for them, along with superior educational standards, strong rules, skilled teachers, and improved student safety.

Also Read: 8 Ways teachers can support Students’ Mental Health as they return to School

2. Improve the standard of education

By incorporating social and emotional competencies, such as individuality and teamwork, into the curriculum, schools can enhance students’ overall well-being. However, it is common for students to lose interest and motivation, which negatively impacts their performance. By identifying the underlying causes of student disengagement and providing support to help them address these issues, schools can significantly improve academic performance. Interventions that promote well-being have a positive effect on student outcomes, especially those that foster student engagement and a sense of belonging, provide mentoring, and support the development of their social and emotional skills. 

3. Reduce students’ troublesome behaviour

In order to navigate the physical and psychological changes that come with puberty, students must learn to manage peer interactions, understand their identity, and cope with the stress of school. Throughout life, children go through various stages, and it is important to recognize and address abnormal behavioural changes. These changes may include feelings of depression, inability to focus, significant mood swings, withdrawal from friends and activities, sleep difficulties, fatigue, substance abuse issues, changes in eating habits, and even suicidal thoughts. Students with poor mental health are more likely to display deviant behaviour.

4. Mental health literacy can help combat stigma

A straightforward strategy for schools looking to promote mental health is to encourage conversations that normalize the subject and spread positive attitudes. This includes minimizing the shame and guilt that students feel as a result of mental health issues, ultimately eliminating stigmas that discourage them from seeking treatment. When supervisors, teachers, and staff have the necessary tools and knowledge to support students facing difficulties, the school culture shifts. Creating a supportive school environment provides children with a safe space to seek out mental health support services, ultimately enhancing learning and academic success.

5. Social and emotional learning can be used to teach students how to manage their emotions

Social and emotional learning can empower students to manage their emotions.

Students who receive social and emotional learning are better equipped to control their emotions and actions. Programs that emphasize emotions, relationships, and decision-making have been found to improve academic achievement and reduce behavior issues, emotional distress, and substance use—contributing to a safer school environment. Through social-emotional learning, students develop skills such as recognizing their emotions, building healthy relationships, setting attainable goals, and showing empathy. Schools can provide teachers with training to incorporate social-emotional learning activities into their curricula, giving students the opportunity to practice and apply these skills.

6. Provide students with a solid foundation for future success

In addition to a strong intellectual background, success in life requires collaboration and effective communication skills. Do schools equip students with the necessary life skills to thrive in today’s challenging job market? By teaching resilience, schools can support students’ mental health and prepare them to handle life’s hardships. Encouraging the development of a growth mindset better equips children to face the challenges of adulthood with confidence and a love for learning. Furthermore, it instills the belief that the process of learning is just as valuable as the end result. Children who adopt these attitudes will approach life with a positive mindset and a thirst for knowledge.

Also Read: How much physical activity do children need?

Other mental health challenges:

1. Children can experience a range of mental health challenges beyond anxiety and depression. These issues can impact their emotional well-being, behavior, and ability to function in daily life. Some of the other common mental health challenges in children include:

2. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): This is characterized by patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that are more severe and frequent than typically observed in individuals at a comparable level of development. This can affect a child’s ability to function effectively at school and in social situations.

3. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): A developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior, and is characterized by difficulties with social interaction, communication challenges, and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors.

4. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD): This involves a pattern of angry, irritable mood, argumentative, defiant behavior, or vindictiveness toward authority figures.

5. Conduct Disorder: A more severe form of behavioral issues, it includes behaviors like aggression toward people and animals, destruction of property, deceitfulness, theft, and serious violations of rules.

6. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Characterized by unwanted and intrusive obsessive thoughts and/or repetitive compulsive physical or mental actions.

7. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This can develop after a child has been exposed to a traumatic event. Symptoms may include re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks or nightmares, avoidance of situations that remind them of the event, heightened reactivity, and anxiety.

8. Eating Disorders: Such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, which involve serious disturbances in eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.

9. Learning Disorders: Including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia, which affect a child’s ability to read, write, and do math.

10. Mood Disorders: In addition to depression, this includes Bipolar Disorder, which involves significant mood swings, including manic or hypomanic episodes.

11. Tic Disorders: Including Tourette’s Syndrome, are characterized by repetitive, sudden, involuntary, and non-rhythmic motor movements or vocalizations.

Even when students start with the same knowledge or ability level, those with growth mindsets outperform those with fixed mindsets. Schools can implement programs that teach resilience and foster well-being, aiming to help students develop social awareness, responsible decision-making skills, self-awareness, and leadership abilities over time.

How to help them overcome these challenges?

The reasons behind this rise are multifaceted, including increased academic pressures, social media influence, family dynamics, and environmental factors. The survey also indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these issues, with isolation and disruption of routine contributing to heightened anxiety and stress in children.

(1). Recognizing the Signs:

The first step in addressing these challenges is recognizing the signs of mental health issues in children. Unlike adults, children may not be able to articulate their feelings effectively. Signs to look out for include changes in behavior, mood swings, withdrawal from social interactions, decline in academic performance, and changes in eating and sleeping patterns.

(2). Breaking the Stigma:

One of the key barriers to addressing children’s mental health is the stigma associated with mental illness. The survey highlighted a need for increased awareness and education to break down these barriers. Encouraging open discussions about mental health in schools and homes can help create an environment where children feel safe to express their feelings and seek help.

(3). The Role of Schools:

Schools play a crucial role in supporting the mental health of students. The survey suggests implementing programs that focus on building emotional resilience, providing mental health education, and training staff to recognize and respond to mental health issues. School counselors and psychologists should be made readily available to students needing support.

(4). Parental Involvement:

Parental involvement is critical in the mental health of children. The survey recommends that parents stay engaged in their child’s life, communicate openly, and foster a supportive and nurturing environment at home. Parents should also be aware of the resources available for mental health support and seek professional help when necessary.

(5). Access to Professional Help:

Access to mental health professionals is essential. The survey calls for increased investment in child mental health services to reduce wait times and make services more accessible. Therapy, whether individual, group, or family-based, can provide children with the tools they need to manage their mental health effectively.

(6). Community and Policy Support:

Finally, the survey underscores the importance of community and policy-level support. This includes investing in community-based programs, promoting mental health awareness campaigns, and implementing policies prioritizing children’s mental health.

Also Read: Why Is Mental Health Important For Teachers?

Conclusion

Even when students start with the same knowledge or ability level, those with growth mindsets outperform those with fixed mindsets. Schools can implement programs that teach resilience and foster well-being, aiming to help students develop social awareness, responsible decision-making skills, self-awareness, and leadership abilities over time.

When do I get to know that my students need medical help now?

This is a call to action for parents, educators, policymakers, and the community. By recognizing the prevalence of mental health challenges in children and taking proactive steps to address them, we can pave the way for a healthier, more resilient future generation. It’s a collective responsibility to ensure that our children receive the support and care they need to thrive both mentally and emotionally.

In case of emergency, please contact the child helpline number 1098/112 which is a toll-free number and is 24/7 support.

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