Millennium Post

Working on the psyche

Younger generation has to be equipped with the ability to handle pressures and challenges by inculcating academic excellence and building better life skills

In India, a student commits suicide every hour. Children are usually vulnerable to immense pressure from parents, teachers and peer groups–this can affect a child's mental health and act as triggers.

While the real reason behind a student's difficulties with concentration and learning could well be Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), mental concerns often manifest themselves as poor academic performance, lack of motivation, social interaction issues with peers or teachers, and even self-harm, trapping a child in a vicious cycle.

Are we, as a society, doing anything to address these pressures? According to recent media reports, there is an acute shortage of counsellors in schools and we have a shortage of psychologist in general. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO), for every one million people, there are just three psychiatrists and even fewer psychologists. This is a critical shortfall.

YouthBol, a pan-India survey among young people conducted by Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3), has thrown the spotlight on this issue: Students as young as 14-year-olds, from both rural and urban regions, have responded by demanding more support for dealing with their stress.

The inability to understand and cope with failure (failing to meet expectations as set by themselves, their parents, peer or society) is driving a lot of young people to serious mental health issues. It is imperative, therefore, to equip the younger generation with the resilience and the ability to handle these pressures and challenges.

This is where psycho-social competence comes in. According to the WHO (1993), psycho-social competence is a person's ability to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. It is a person's ability to maintain a state of mental well-being and to demonstrate this in adaptive and positive behaviour while interacting with others.

Psycho-social competence has an important role to play in the promotion of health in its broadest sense—in terms of physical, mental and social well-being.

In particular, where health problems are related to behaviour and where the behaviour is related to an inability to deal effectively with the stresses and pressures of life, the enhancement of psycho-social competence could make a significant difference. This is especially important for health promotion at a time when behaviour is being increasingly identified as a key source of health-related problems.

The most direct and effective interventions for the promotion of psycho-social competence are those which enhance the person's coping resources and her/his personal and social competencies. In school-based programmes for children and adolescents, this can be done by teaching life skills in a supportive learning environment.

Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life. Described in this way, skills that can be said to be life skills are innumerable and the nature and definition of life skills are likely to differ across cultures and settings.

However, analysis suggests that there is a core set of skills that are at the heart of skills-based initiatives for the promotion of health and well-being of children and adolescents. These are decision making, problem-solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, effective communication, interpersonal relationship skills, self-awareness, empathy, coping with emotions and coping with stress.

Transforming the way we impart education and making it holistic is fraught with challenges–sometimes, it might mean fighting entrenched mindsets. Sometimes, the backlash comes from communities or from parents who do not realise the value in these life skill sessions; at times, teachers do not want to take up an extra burden of imparting information on health and well-being. However, we have been fortunate that states such as Jharkhand and Bihar have given us an opportunity to include life skill education in their school curriculums. The difference it is making to the lives of the young is quite in evidence.

So, there is hope. It shows that transition is on its way and may not be far away. But it needs concerted efforts, scaling up and more awareness to ensure that our youth is more empowered and aware to make better decisions for themselves and have a healthy life.

(The author is the executive director of Centre for Catalyzing Change (C3), New Delhi. The views expressed are strictly personal)

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