The importance of cultivating resilience and courage in children

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also harder to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” – C.S. Lewis.

2,212

The National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 , conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, under the purview of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, reveals that 9.8 million teenagers in the age group 13-17 years suffer depression and other mental health disorders and are “in need of active intervention.When it comes to countries, India is the most depressed country in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, followed by China and the USA.

With the prevalence of mental health issues in our society, it’s astounding that we still tend to stigmatize mental illness. Many mental health misconceptions still exist and we can’t deny that. It is estimated that the economic loss due to mental health would be around 1.03 trillion (of 2010 dollars) from 2012 – 2030. The mental health work force in India is also extremely low – there are 0.3 psychiatrists, 0.12 nurses, 0.07 psychologists and 0.07 social workers per 100,000 population(“Mental Health in India”, WHO).

These figures are alarming. It is exacerbated by the fact that people in many cases are not even ready to acknowledge mental health issue. The patriarchy in India has taught people that “it’s not okay to not be okay”, and there is a constant pressure on people to act normal when they are actually experiencing a lot of stress and depression.

Because mental health issues often begin during the school-age years, it’s becoming more and more apparent that mental health education needs to start at an early age. Because children spend so much of their daily life at school, it seems logical that mental health education should begin in schools.

What is Mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Having good mental health helps you lead a relatively happy and healthy life. It helps you demonstrate resilience and the ability to cope in the face of life’s adversities.

What is Holistic Development?

Holistic Development is an approach ( that normally schools look at) to learning that emphasises the importance of the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of children.

It is about focusing attention on the connectedness of a Child’s mind, body and spirit that helps adults embrace the real and authentic developmental opportunities regardless of children’s culture, socioeconomic background, gender or age.

What is the role of mental health in holistic development of students?

Considering the fact that it covers almost all facets of our being, it is pretty much the basis of our growth, sustenance and well – being. There is no role of mental health in holistic development of students. Holistic development is the product of our mind, body, feelings and relationships. Period!

Some facts about Mental health in India:

Over the last five years, more than 40,000 students committed suicide in India. Last year, 8,492 students committed suicide. One student commits suicide every hour in India, and yet, we keep pretending like today’s teenagers are anything from fragile to obsessed about their looks — each of these blame-games make diagnosis and treatment of teenage depression even more difficult*

The National Mental Health Survey 2015-16 , conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, under the purview of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, reveals that 9.8 million teenagers in the age group 13-17 years suffer depression and other mental health disorders and are “in need of active intervention.

When it comes to countries, India is the most depressed country in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, followed by China and the USA.

As educators we need to know, actually wake up to this very fact. One out of 4 teenagers in India suffers from depression and we don’t even realise it. Even after all the (alarming) figures and data emerging from research, there is very little focus on mental wellness, especially in schools.

Recently, A 19-year-old IIT Madras student, depressed over low marks, commits suicide.

The student, a native of Kerala, was pursuing the integrated MA programme at the institute. Police are suspecting the student was depressed because of poor performance in examinations. They believe her low marks were the reason behind taking the dire step. It is also said a professors pressurised her into the act.

No matter who we blame on the outside ( Marks/ professors), the fact remains that she couldn’t deal, cope and regulate her inner experiences. She was stuck in the negative moment and didn’t know how to get out of it.

I always say if there’s anything we’re assured of in life besides death and taxes, it’s stress and pain.Why don’t we educate students to handle pain? Why don’t we talk to them about Joy, gratitude, restlessness or shame as a human experience?

Following pressures from students, IIT – M has agreed to set up a committee of experts to study mental health of students and suggest ways to help them to combat pressures.

What we fail to understand is that students who receive social – emotional support, in childhood, achieve better academically. There are three critical skills that develop in early childhood: paying attention and remembering information, shifting back and forth between tasks, and behaving appropriately with others. These abilities are known as executive functions and they are essential for more advanced tasks like planning, reasoning, problem solving, and positive social relationships. Something that all teachers work for!

A renowned television actor Kushal Punjabi also committed suicide recently. It is talked about Punjabi’s struggle with mental health conditions. This also means that mental wellness is constant work and not limited to age in any way.

While the world believes its work pressure, bullying, teasing or lack of coping with failures, it’s certainly more than that. It’s not ‘the incident’ or ‘the moment’, but a series of unresolved moments of pain, neglect, emotional suffering, isolation, anger or may be even shame that leads a child or an adult to take the extreme jump.

The Netflix show, “13 reasons why” is currently in its third season. Teenager Hannah Baker is a victim of gossip, bullying, rape and body shaming. Not knowing ways to handle this, she commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes explaining why. A narrow narrative that implies that bullying leads to suicide, is a glorified act, most dangerously portrays the idea that a lot of thought goes into a suicide attempt — like, so much thought that one would have the time to make tapes about all of the ways that they have felt wronged.

Watch it, if you haven’t as yet. Our teenagers are struggling more than we believe they are.

A child who is vulnerable is constantly absorbing signs & messages from people every day, without being aware of how it is churning inside him. Moment – to – Moment feeling of ‘Not good enough’ and ‘Bad- ness’ triggered by Parents & teachers, friends, extended family, society and even Media. Problem Internet use (PIU) is now considered a behavioural addiction with characteristics similar to substance use disorders. This child isn’t aware of how and when he gets addicted to negative thoughts and begins

to live those ‘feelings’ every day. Only if children today are taught to bring back their attention from the ‘Pain’ to the ‘Actual Moment’, only if they are taught to ‘befriend the mind’ and not struggle with the chatter in the head, only if they are given permission to feel ‘the feeling’ and not fix it, only if they are taught to be kind and gentle to themselves, so they realize that a bully needs ‘kindness’ the most. Bullying is a form of unkindness which uses power to dominate others. Only if the bully is taught to regulate the “power” and be kind. Only if they have the tools to Pause, Focus on the NOW and take charge of their impulsiveness.

Schools cannot do it alone, it’s impossible! The true resolution of a bully or a victim does not lie at the external level, but at the internal level.

Unfortunately, our education is all about the future, tomorrow, what’s coming your way. If we wish to create a deeper change, then we need to focus on today – the now.

It is through very – small moments that children learn to trust, love, be brave, be non – judgemental, know their boundaries, be assertive, be kind, show compassion, to feel, be thoughtful.

Let me share another story:

As a Life Skill and Mindfulness educator it is my privilege to help adolescence explore their inner world, their psychological terrain. Day after day I hear thoughts, feelings, emotions and stories of pain and shame. This data helps me understand what emotionally paralyses us and how is it that we may thrive in a journal called – LIFE. A young girl, super intelligent and a high performer seeks help from me to handle her anxiety and suicidal tendencies. Parents called her a gifted child, and gifted her books to read and gadgets in early years, when they should have gifted her paints and a musical instrument. Today, the girl struggles with a racing mind, and emotions that are beyond her control. Teachers, often mistook her denial to participate as arrogance and at times laziness. What they missed to sense, was her cry for love, understanding and compassion. She didn’t know what she felt and why she felt it. Her mind, her greatest strength was also her biggest liability. She needed tools to express herself, strategies that slowed her over stimulated mind, and ways to re-focus and re – engage.

It all points out to lack of emotional resilience.
What is Resilience?

Imagine two equally talented students in your class. Both get a “B” in their first term examination. One is caught up in thinking – “he’s is a failure”, was “never good enough” and “my teacher hates me”. The other chooses to embrace

it as, “This feel super bad, but i know tomorrow i will feel better. “ I am stronger than this” “What can i do to bring my scores up?”

Who do you think moves through adversity more quickly?

Resilience is the process of effectively coping with adversity—it’s about bouncing back from difficulties. The great thing about resilience is that it’s not a personality trait; it involves a way of paying attention, thinking, and behaving that anyone can learn. Resilience relies on how we perceive our lives. It starts and end with our thoughts.

We are not educating students about their minds or attention. How do they handle a ruminating mind? What do they do when they feel scattered in the head? How to deal with a worry mind? How do they use attention to enhance willpower? How do they process hard feelings?

How can they get better at setting aside the trivial mind traps that keep us stuck and drag us down into states of anxiety and depression?

Schools need a shift in the way they envision sustainable development, and that shift is in the direction of community wellbeing that exists within the organisation. By community, I mean teachers, students, staff, parents…may be neighbouring schools. It needs to become one’s priority

Safeguarding mental health of students – where do we begin?

Teachers tell their students that mindset matters. Yet they do not allow themselves the space or opportunities to receive those same messages of reflection and self-care. We as a society are brilliant in fixing children, without understanding the need to fix oneself.

In order to help students thrive in a volatile and disruptive world, a teacher or an adult needs to safeguard his/her own emotional well – being. After all, teachers are the guardian of spaces that allow students to breathe, pause and be curious, explore the world and be themselves without suffocation.

Make vulnerability a basis for strength, failures as an opportunity to reflect and human connection as a basis of existence.

It is only when teachers are comfortable with their own vulnerability, honour their feelings and be more present, can they create a workplace for students that honours and supports them. It means to work with them as sovereign beings rather than treating them like predictable, controllable machines.

It’s easier said, than done.

Teachers are the most important leaders that we have. Trust, sense of belong, emotional safety,

connection, commitment etc..are taught in the smallest of ‘classroom’ moments. It is served not through massive, heroic sort of events, but through paying attention, focused listening and gestures of genuine care.

Schools need a shift in the way they envision sustainable development, and that shift is in the direction of community wellbeing that exists within the organisation. By community, I mean teachers, students, staff, parents…may be neighbouring schools. It needs to become one’s priority.

Every human being has three basic needs— safety, satisfaction, and connection—that are grounded in our ancient evolutionary history. While our circumstances have changed enormously over the last 200,000 years, our brains have remained largely the same. In consequence, it becomes crucial to administer a classroom based mindfulness programs that can aid the development of executive function abilities in young children, while also helping them cope better with stress.

This is how children will know who they truly are….Through inner strength, courage, grit and acceptance.

In order to help students thrive in a volatile and disruptive world, a teacher or an adult needs to safeguard his/her own emotional well – being. After all, teachers are the guardian of spaces that allow students to breathe, pause and be curious, explore the world and be themselves without suffocation.

Every human being has three basic needs—safety, satisfaction, and connection—that are grounded in our ancient evolutionary history. While our circumstances have changed enormously over the last 200,000 years, our brains have remained largely the same. In consequence, it becomes crucial to administer a classroom based mindfulness programs that can aid the development of executive function abilities in young children, while also helping them cope better with stress.

Fathima brings with her close to 17 years of experience in the education sector working extensively with children, teachers and parents in areas of life skills training, personal development and child behavior management. Her passions lies in conducting workshops on Personal safety, Body awareness, Human Sexuality, CSA awareness and has extensively worked with adolescents on responsible behaviors.

A teacher trainer and a certified parent coach who now works with families to create a happy fulfilling environment at home and classroom. Believes that relationships are connected by soul and Interpersonal challenges are dealt with both the mind & the heart. She has also conducted training programs outside India and trained teachers and parents in the Middle East. She is a parent consultant and holds an international Parent coach training Mastery certification from ACPI, USA.