Adolescence is a transitional stage of increased growth and development with physical, psychological and social changes that take a firm stand during this stage. Adolescents yearn for autonomy and identity during this stage and want to break the boundaries around them. They wish to explore themselves and their environment freely by forming new ideas, beliefs and values. If a rigid environment that lacks space for exploring oneself leads to role confusion, they might end up not knowing who they are.
Adolescence can be challenging and prone to many risk factors as they end up tangled in problematic behaviour patterns and are not aware of them. A major prominent risk factor is the peer group. Adolescents spend a large amount of their time with their peers and they consider peer groups as their supporting pillar. Thus, to be confirmed in a group, adolescents tend to follow their peer’s behaviour. This can be related to risk-taking behaviours like substance use, violent acts, sexual behaviours, etc. There can be many reasons behind these behaviours like leisure purposes, to have fun with peers, or sometimes mental health troubles which can vary according to an individual's personality. There is a bidirectional view that points out mental health concerns can be caused due to risk-taking behaviours or mental health concerns can be a possible reason for risk-taking behaviours.
For these reasons, adolescence should be looked at from a mental health perspective. This stage is greatly ignored in aspects of mental health due to various reasons like lack of awareness at this age, stereotypical ideas on mental health, an embarrassment in publicly sharing mental health concerns, etc. This is a critical stage where one’s personality is defined and built. Therefore, more mental health services ought to be made accessible to adolescents by providing awareness. De-stigmatizing mental health in social media would also help to make adolescents realize that mental health is of greater significance than one considers it to be.
Mental health affects multiple domains in a student's life. It plays a key role in their academics and performance. Based on the education system in India, mental health should be included as a mandatory subject. Learning about mental health from schools would mould the child differently because at this age adolescents give adequate importance to peer groups. The subject should only be taught by mental health professionals or certified educators. It gives insights on mental health, its significance and the consequences if left unnoticed, like falling victim to risk-taking behaviours, peer pressure, etc. Through this, mental health talks should be made a topic that is commonly conversed among students like their favourite movies and food.
For this education to happen at school, parents are required to approve of it. It is widely believed that Indian parents are at odds with the concept of seeking help for mental health concerns. Mental health topics are handled in secret or are buried away as they are said to be in opposition to Indian cultural standards and beliefs. Thus parents and the child’s immediate family members should be made aware of the significance of mental health and the importance of having casual mental health conversations with their child. This can help understand the child’s need for independence and autonomy and can be handled smoothly.
These practices can begin with introducing interactive interventions in a school setting by bringing in new forms of teaching through role-plays, class discussions, pot-lucks etc. These role-plays can be devised that best depicts the scenarios from reality like parent-teen conflicts, lack of communication, opposition in cultural beliefs, peer pressure, consequences of substance use & violent acts, and enforced societal norms. Effective and interactive interventions can be made with rapport building, empathy, listening without judging and can include forms of music, dance movement, art forms, storytelling and writing and other creative ways.
Celebrating World Mental Health day in schools can be a huge addition to this technique.
Awareness of mental health is needed in all forms possible to all age groups irrespective of country, colour, caste and creed. For adolescents from lower socio-economic backgrounds who lack proper education, the concept of mental health and its developing commonality in society is hard to accept and acknowledge. This is because the rural population in India are not treated equally and they lack exposure to modern ideas.
Community mental health services need to be promoted and effective intervention strategies should be made available for rural people at affordable costs or free of cost. The belief that mental health is as common as physical health, should be integrated into the mind of every adolescent.
All forms of art are taught in the education system to increase the student’s potential and as a recreational activity. Learning and practising art forms is a way to express ourselves. It is a non-verbal form of expression in which our emotions, thoughts and ideas are projected onto our art piece unconsciously.
During art classes, students are taught to draw perfectly or to replicate an object or an image perfectly. Acknowledging this perfection, students should also be taught to practice art forms in a free will to make it a medium that allows them to vent. They should be given the freedom to draw anything they wish to and discuss how they feel while creating the art piece. This would allow them to adapt to the emotional changes which they find hard to express verbally.
Physical emergencies are attended to immediately with utmost care. Likewise, mental health emergencies should be given equal importance. In India, emotional breakdowns, anger outbursts, and psychological turmoil in adolescents are seen as unacceptable in a social setting. Providing a compassionate and supportive presence to mitigate their distress would assure them that mental health is something of greater value in one’s life.
Psychological first aid kits exist as well! They include building rapport, listening, showing empathy, observing, and guiding them through the process of facing and confronting the challenges. Letting the students know that they are not alone and reassuring them is essential. This can lead to the reduction of impulsive risk-taking behaviours.
These skills should only be employed by a trained professional like school counsellors who are well versed in guiding the adolescent. Also, every Indian family should have a family psychologist to deal with mental health emergencies.
Many assessment tools are available in schools to observe and analyze the physical fitness of students. This has been made essential in many schools to take preventive measures concerning physical health. Mental health assessment tools are equally necessary and important, as mental and physical aspects are intertwined.
Schools can conduct basic tests like personality, anxiety, depression, stress, achievement motivation, emotional intelligence, etc to check on their mental well-being and would allow the students to reflect on their mental status and work on it. These assessments can be made available online on every school website and assign the students with credits, rewards or words of appreciation for taking these tests.
School websites can also work on the idea of providing a chatbox for students to anonymously text, message or seek support through online conversations with mental health professionals in schools.
Adolescents have a strong social media presence. They use it as a form of escape and as a source of information. Providing mental health care information on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter is the fastest form of information consumption. Interactive tools like Instagram reels and IGTVs of mental health professionals is a great way to spread more awareness. Talking about mental health and normalizing it on such platforms is a great way to help adolescents. Most of the time we are unaware of what people are going through. Being aware of people and sensitive to their feelings becomes very important.
Having poor mental health can affect a person in all aspects of life. They might feel undermotivated to engage in activities. They might not attend social gatherings and stray away from their favorite activities. Paying attention to such details is important. If you see someone in your life or someone around you suddenly lose interest and disengage themselves, make sure to provide help. Providing help does not always mean lecturing them or giving them advice. Help can be given through different forms. Listening to the person’s problems, or helping them with their needs or even giving them access to a therapist is a form of help you can give. It is often seen that the subject teachers are appointed as part-time counsellors in schools and colleges. This demotivates the students to approach the counselor and does not provide complete attention to mental health practices. Providing a mental health professional as a counselor to help the students is another form of help.
According to the World Health Organisation finding, half of all mental health conditions start from the age of 14 and remain undetected and untreated. The result of not treating this during adolescence can then shift to adulthood and impair their social and emotional functioning. It is a pressing matter that needs to be looked into. Parents and teachers are crucial factors that play a role in shaping an individual’s developmental stages. De-stigmatisation and talking about mental health should begin from here. Using digital media as a positive medium and self-care strategies is sure to improve the awareness of mental health.