“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary” – Fred Rogers
As I sat to pen down this write up, I recalled an incident which happened a few years ago narrated to me by a school teacher. She was in a fixed which is why she has asked me if I could suggest something concrete. The case was about a young boy in a school whom everyone does not notice much. He was like any other regular student in a classroom setting. The teacher noticed that he would always stare at her and smile. He perhaps likes the teacher and found her approachable. One fine day, this student was seen waiting outside the Staffroom and upon seeing the teacher, he approached her and requested that he would like to talk to her. The teacher after seeing this boy decided to hear him out. After a long chat, he expressed that “papa is not at home” (transferred) “and mummy brings uncle home to papa’s room”. It took him a long time to say what he had to share and his voice carried with it, a lot of shame and embarrassment that a Class IV boy could shoulder. Assumedly, he has been carrying this burden with him as he did not find anyone trustable enough to share what he was going through. He did not tell his friends as they may land up pulling his legs, nor his relatives as they may tell his mother, but chose to approach this particular teacher as she perhaps looks caring and someone who would be able to help/listen to him. This is a simple example of what has been bothering this child and how he has been trying his level best to look around for a medium to vent out his concerns – a situation he would not know how to deal with. There are ample such cases or even worst, whereby a child is troubled and would only suppress such feelings to oneself. According to Jain, Agaskar, Kakkar, Behl (2019) counselling or school counselling in India is still at its infancy stage. The welfare of the students in terms of their mental health is something that has always been ignored in a big way. A clinical psychologist at Children First, expressed that very often the management of schools doesn’t know what to do with the counsellors. They are rarely included in any decision-making and are dominated by mainstream teachers and administrators. Even for schools, where a full-time Counsellor is appointed, s/he is perceived as another teacher by the students, as they would assist in teaching few subjects as assigned to them. Referral to meet a counsellor is not considered as a mere interaction or having a conversation. By and large, a student is still tag as a “problem child”, because they have been asked to meet the counsellor of the school/educational institution.
Jain et al, (2019) stated that modern lifestyle, economic reforms, globalization, changes in the family systems and practices, increases in divorce rates and single parenting have resulted in various emotional, social and mental health problems in India for the last decade or so. These social changes have had adverse effects on school-going children and adolescents, which led to an increase in suicide rates, enormous academic competitiveness, and peer/parental pressure (Arulmani, 2007; Kodas & Kazi, 2014). Counselling at the school level and or community settings will be an external source of support for addressing various emotional and psychological problems for school-going children and adolescents. As per the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), there has been a great demand for Guidance and Counselling services in schools to facilitate better academic performance, adjustment and career development among students so as to provide quality education. In this direction, the Government of India among other programmes/activities has offered some programmes on the subject (Indian Institute of School Psychology, 2020). Unfortunately, the approach of schools in India has mistaken counselling for career guidance which gives space for more gaps in the system. Guidance and counselling are important for children, and schools have a huge role in bringing out the best in children. This varies from polishing their personality to managing and dealing with emotional conflict and personal problems to psychological problems which can badly impact their studies to extreme stress, trauma and anxiety related to examinations and other issues (Nalanda International School, 2020).
Not many years ago, in a conversation with the Principal of a Police Academy in the State, she shared that the police personnel – new recruits and those currently serving, face a lot of emotional and psychological problems and stress. Family issues tend to dominate this aspect. Frequent phone calls from their wives, followed by complaints from their mothers/parents resulted in a lot of uncalled pressure and overwhelming experiences and feelings. Some of such issues are manageable, while some leave a heavy impact on their mental well being. The Public Health Foundation of India, (2019) stated that Uniformed Personnel is constantly functioning under an unpredictable stressful and dynamic environment and are exposed to various kinds of stress due to unique nature of their postings that involve being away from family for a long period of time, being in life-threatening combat situations and adjusting to extreme weather conditions. The relatively high prevalence of anxiety, depressive behaviour, substance abuse, suicides, fratricides etc. among uniformed personnel is a matter of great concern. However, at the same time, there is a high tendency to avoid discussing mental health issues openly, for fear of being stigmatized or ostracized by peers and superiors, being declared unfit for duty, overlooked for promotions or important postings etc. Sadly, there is an absence of specialized preventive mental health services for police personnel in the country. A news item in The Hindu (2016), mentions that lack of an outlet to vent their (police personnel) emotions only exacerbates the situation (high pressure, erratic timings and intense working conditions) and there is a crying need of professional counselling help. One of the senior psychiatrists in the country observes that suicides often occur as chain reactions. Several members of the police force who are under immense stress and are facing compounding personal and professional issues opt to end their lives and this has acted as a stimulus for others who are entangle in the same complex situations.
In both cases – school children and police personnel require attention and good services with regard to their mental health and the need to express themselves and be heard. Similarly, all other professions require the same kind of treatment, from teachers to those working in corporates, hospitals, students in higher education and parents – working or otherwise. The current scenario of COVID 19 has given rise to the need for mandatory counselling services for all doctors, nurses, healthcare and frontline workers to deal with anxiety and stress. The counselling facilitated through teleconsultation and or video conferencing has been initiated in many parts of India. The need of a counsellor is a must for those who out of choice want to consult with someone not known to them, those who do not have a close one to share, those who finds it difficult to deal with their situations and for those who needs an outside perspective into what they are going through. In all setups, we need counsellors of both genders to restrain any gender from coming forth and open up.
Although mental health practitioners and awareness programmes have improved immensely in our country and in the State as compared to where it was decades ago, the main challenges still remain with reaching out to similar issues in our rural interiors whereby, mental diseases still holds a high percentage of stigmatization amongst the people and where mental diseases are still associated with witchcraft, black magic and evil possession. A time has come to move a step forward to create similar awareness and in educating our rural folks about mental diseases and its treatment. This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day as has rightly been framed laid emphasis on “Move for mental health: Increased investment in mental health”. This suggests the need to make mental health care, treatment and services available to all as any other basic human right.
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])