I was chit-chatting with my mother about why, sometimes, I feel dissatisfied with the services I render as a school counselor. I work for the student community. And this section of the society faces some unique challenges. For one, it seems, it undergoes drastic changes every five years. For instance, earlier students would walk down to my office in their free periods for a casual guidance like conversation. The not-so-serious things. But, present lot might gawk at the idea.
Secondly, they don’t really get to vent. At home it’s mostly dual-incomes-hence-busy-schedules, at school there are trust issues, after-tuition hours are spent at street food/date like scenarios more than uplifting discussions, and weekends in extra coaching(s) (and extra expectations). Where do they go? That’s where I see my role, to extend a listening ear. Most of them would convey to me, ‘Ma’am, I don’t need a solution, but I need to talk.’ Their core issues are not even brought up elsewhere which has led to a clear-cut increase in mental health problems and psychiatric medications during childhood itself. One might argue that this was always like this; that it’s just an upsurge of awareness. I seriously doubt. Did we hear of suicides so often back in our childhood/teenage?
I feel discontented because when my role stretches to becoming a referral point wherein I could suggest seeing a more specialized person, or I try to becoming an intervention in class-room teaching style, I face much resistance. Rarely, have I faced reception of ideas. Pardon this, because I do not in the slightest of ways intend to disregard anyone. After all, where do even the teachers and parents go? Have we made it a norm to visit a psychiatrist/mental health worker yet? Do we give our friends, colleagues, relatives and acquaintances the space/freedom to mention such appointments and sittings openly? Is our education all-rounded? Are our teachers well-paid (and well-valued)?
That’s why I am not satisfied. Even if I get a regular pay-cheque, even if certain students have kept in touch over the years, even if I do indeed reduce their stress, I am not satisfied.
How can we remove the stigma?
- Know the facts.
Educate yourself about mental health problems. Learn the facts instead of the myths.
- Be aware of your attitudes and behaviour
We’ve all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking. But we can change the way we think! See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond their mental illness; they have many other personal attributes that do not disappear just because they also have a mental illness.
- Choose your words carefully
The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language.
- Educate others
Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems. If your friends, family, co-workers or even the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with mental health problems by keeping alive the false ideas.
- Focus on the positive
People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.
- Support people
Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.
Regarding second level of the problem presented, take example of Finland whose school system has consistently come at the top for international rankings for education systems. Here is Finland’s education system in nutshell:
- They keep their focus on life-long learning and steering, instead of controlling.
- Assessment is a part of daily schoolwork, not specific months/exams only.
- Finnish children don’t start school till they are 7.
- Inclusive education – Clever or not, all children sit in the same classroom.
- Science classes are capped at 16 students so that they may perform practical experiments every class.
- Elementary school students get 75 minutes of recess a day.
- Teachers only spend 4 hours a day in the classroom, and take 2 hours a week for “professional development”.
- School system is 100% state funded.
- Teachers are selected from top 10% of post-graduates and are well-paid.
- Teachers are effectively given the same status as doctors and lawyers.
We need to not only follow and emulate all of the above, but, also, taking inspiration, come up with our own innovative and customized solutions. Then, and only then, can the major drawbacks get replaced by strengths.