Most educational institutes in the country do not provide mental health services, making it harder for children to make sense of what they are feeling
As the alarm rang at a quarter past seven in the morning, Kanak felt a hole in her stomach. All she could think of was bunking school. She, however, knew she cannot do this every day and had to get off the bed sulkily. As she stood in front of the mirror, she recalled every single time she had gotten an anxiety attack during the assembly. This only made it hellish for her to get dressed for school.
Kanak Sringa is a 17-year-old, who suffers from anxiety. While she has not been diagnosed, anxiety does come in the way of her daily functioning. “For around four months, my mental health has been on an edge. The funny part is that I cannot understand what I am feeling because I was never educated about it,” she said. Coming from a place where she cannot express to her parents, she decided to see if someone at her school could help her.
Only to find out that is not happening either. Kanak further added, “Waking up daily is a very big task. The thought of going and standing in an assembly with so many people is scary. The thought of something (anxiety attacks) happening around these people really scares me. I have gotten two anxiety attacks at school and it was hard to cope. It felt like no teachers or students would understand.”
According to a report by UNICEF, at least 50 million children in India were affected with mental health issues even before the pandemic. Another report by the World Health Organisation stated that every one in four children aged between 13 and 15 in India suffer from depression. This, however, is not the only surprise. What is even more surprising is that 80-90 percent of children out of these 50 million did not seek support.
Ananya Dinesh faces some mental health issues, too. Unlike most children her age, she chose to seek help. She tried quite a few ways, but to no avail. “I think it goes without saying that it is really hard for most of us to open up at home. Most parents do not get it. When the pandemic was at its peak, a lot of free helplines by the government were circulating. Some did not pick calls, and the ones who did were definitely not able to help. Imagine you call somebody to seek help and they say, ‘Yen amma, what mental problem do you have?’ It is so disappointing.”
Over the years, the education department has come up with several initiatives to help children. None have seemed to take off, put aside working efficiently. The COVID 19 pandemic visibly worsened people’s mental health. The education department suggested counselling sessions at schools due to this. Most students, however, do not have anything as such.
“There is so much pressure to get good grades that it has further worsened mental health. Schools either need to reduce the load, or provide us with mental health services. I, myself, was very scared to talk about my problems, which made me bottle up. This led to panic attacks and days of feeling down. At a point when I am not able to trust my peers, I would appreciate help from school so much. It is not like I have got the money to afford therapy sessions without my parents’ support,” Ananya added.
While quite a few colleges in the country do provide mental health services, the reality of it is not really known. Priyal Vargis is a college student from Bangalore. She said, “Yes, we do have mental health counsellors at college, but nobody really goes to them. First of all, not everyone is aware. I am sure most people do not even know that we have anything like that. And the ones who know, choose not to go. One of the girls had spoken to a counsellor. Everything she had said was out there in the open. There is no privacy, so people avoid seeking help at college.”
Kanak Sringa further added, “I did have counsellors in my previous school (Ryan International School), but they were judgemental. They would always ask how I have such problems and justify it saying that I am just distracted.”
A lot of students that CityCast spoke to continue to suffer from mental health issues, with no help from the educational institutes they belong to. Children like Kanak and Ananya still await help while they try to deal with their issues themselves.