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Recognizing and openly addressing mental health concerns signifies a positive cultural shift – Dr Daniel Fung
Apr 19, 2024

Recognizing and openly addressing mental health concerns signifies a positive cultural shift – Dr Daniel Fung

19 April 2024, New Delhi: The roundtable on Mental Health: Imperatives for Indian Educators, organized by Confederation of Indian Industry was held on 19th April 2024 to discuss the importance of mental health among teachers, the challenges they face and potential ways to address these issues.

A report on “A Short Survey & Analysis of Mental Health Challenges among Educators in Schools in National Capital Region” was unveiled by Mr Anandrao V Patil, Additional Secretary, Department of School Education & Literacy, Ministry of Education. The survey focuses on understanding the mental health needs of teachers over the past four years (with discussions revolved around pre and post covid scenarios), specifically within the National Capital Region and how school leadership has reacted upon identifying the need and making sure the well-being of teachers. The findings of the report highlighted various factors like parents behaviour towards teachers(25%), safety concern of children(10%), 50 hrs of continuous professional development trainings (as mandated by NEP) (10%) smultiple roles(30%) and documentation work(25%) are impacting the mental health of teachers in the 25 schools who participated in this survey from the National Capital Region.

Mr Anandrao V Patil, Additional Secretary, Department of School Education & Literacy, Ministry of Education highlighted that as we celebrate 75 years of independence, it's imperative to underscore the paramount importance of mental well-being in our society. The National Education Policy (NEP) stands out as a pivotal instrument for fostering this transformation. The Ministry of Education, in close collaboration with various stakeholders, is diligently working to embed mental health initiatives within government-aided schools. We commend the proactive efforts already underway in schools towards this end. However, it's crucial to acknowledge the challenges faced by our educators, who not only grapple with the demands of teaching but also bear the brunt of additional responsibilities, such as election duties. Ensuring their physical, emotional, and social well-being remains a priority. The Ministry is committed to providing guidance and support to teachers in implementing NEP strategies. Moreover, our partnership with UNICEF for a comprehensive survey on infrastructure gaps, reflects our concerted efforts towards holistic educational reform. Initiatives like the Vidya Samiksha Kendra and the development of primers in various Indian languages signify our commitment to inclusivity and accessibility, he added. However, we recognize the indispensable role of industry in enriching educational platforms like the DIKSHA portal with high-quality content. In line with this, we're excited to announce the imminent launch of two courses focused on mental well-being, he highlighted. Additionally, preparations are underway for a national mission dedicated to mental health, poised to be a significant milestone in our collective journey towards fostering a healthier, more resilient society.

Dr Daniel Fung, CEO, Institute of Mental Health, Singapore stated that as we reflect on the evolving landscape of Indian society, it becomes evident that discussions around mental health represent a significant stride forward. Traditionally, mental health has been stigmatized, relegated to the shadows of public discourse. However, recognizing and openly addressing mental health concerns signifies a positive cultural shift. It acknowledges the complexities of human experience and fosters empathy and understanding within communities. The issue of long waiting times for child psychiatrists is not unique to India; it's a challenge faced by many countries globally. This underscores the urgent need for systemic reforms and investment in mental health infrastructure. Schools, being a central hub for children's development, emerge as ideal platforms for initiating conversations about mental health. By integrating mental health education into the curriculum, schools can play a pivotal role in destigmatizing mental illness and fostering early intervention and support.

He emphasized that it is essential to distinguish between mental disease and mental illness. Mental disease refers to a brain disorder, often with biological origins, while mental illness encompasses a broader spectrum of psychological and emotional struggles. Everyone’s experience of mental illness is unique and multifaceted, influenced by various factors such as genetics, environment, and life experiences. Understanding this distinction is crucial for providing tailored interventions and support.

The ensuing panel discussion featured educators representing diverse schools, engaging in a robust conversation about the intricate ecosystem surrounding mental health within educational settings.

In the context of the education system, there's a pressing need to harness collective wisdom to chart a comprehensive plan. This involves engaging stakeholders from diverse backgrounds, including educators, mental health professionals, policymakers, and community members. By pooling our collective expertise and resources, we can develop strategies that prioritize mental health and well-being within educational settings.

The question of whether mental health is genuinely a problem necessitates a nuanced examination. While there's growing recognition of mental health issues, the prevalence and severity of these concerns can vary depending on environmental factors. Socioeconomic disparities, cultural norms, and access to healthcare all play significant roles in shaping individuals' mental health outcomes. Therefore, addressing mental health requires a holistic approach that encompasses not only individual-level interventions, but also systemic changes aimed at promoting equity and social justice.

The mental health school ecosystem encompasses various facets crucial for the well-being and development of students. Amidst the academic landscape, educators grapple with the pervasive influence of performance pressures, often stemming from certain parents' expectations. However, fostering open communication with parents becomes paramount, facilitating a collaborative approach in understanding and supporting each child's unique journey. Recognizing that every child possesses distinct strengths and trajectories, the focus shifts from mere academic achievements to nurturing holistic development.

In this paradigm shift, the emphasis transcends foundational literacy to encompass the capacity building of educators in addressing the social and emotional phases of learning. It becomes imperative to acknowledge the specific needs of children hailing from marginalized backgrounds, who often face compounded challenges on the mental health front. Creating safe spaces and instilling confidence are pivotal for their transformational journey.

Moreover, interventions must extend beyond conventional methods, prompting a re-evaluation of the curriculum to better align with the evolving needs of students. This necessitates not only a revamp of what we teach but also how we teach it. Consequently, the training of educators emerges as a critical component, underscoring the importance of comprehensive teacher training programs that equip them with the requisite tools and insights to navigate the complexities of mental health in education effectively.

In addressing these multifaceted challenges, the potential of public-private partnerships cannot be overstated. Collaborative efforts between government bodies, educational institutions, and private enterprises can yield innovative solutions and resource mobilization to bolster mental health initiatives within schools. By leveraging collective expertise and resources, we can foster a more inclusive and supportive educational environment that prioritizes the mental well-being of all students.

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