Like most foundation skills we learn at school, reading and writing stay with us for life. It is at these early stages where most basic learning takes place. Yet, the introduction of mental health topics is something we seem to stumble on as young adults.
Yes, teachers play a crucial role in promoting student mental health. However, it is the school’s responsibility to pave the way and establish values that prioritize the wellbeing of the whole student. The school’s philosophy sets the tone for the environment it creates. Pressure cannot be placed solely on teachers to provide a positive atmosphere when the top (system) fails to lead by example. Schools must readjust their vision, mission, and goal to cater to a safe, mental health-friendly environment. The words must become a reality. Instead of a slogan/motto to slap on the monthly newsletter or a catchphrase to lure prospective students. Schools should lead and guide teachers/staff to form a united front that advocates the importance of mental wellbeing by introducing the right resources for students.
Where did we go wrong?
The majority of schools adopt a militant approach to education. A system that focuses on discipline and producing results. The belief is that achievement and success is the single objective. The cornerstone of our capitalist society. A culture that breeds students with a clouded tunnel-vision perspective on success and what matters in life.
A robotic culture, stuck in mundane outdated curriculums that attempt to produce a standard of unilateral thinking. A fixation on accumulating facts and building a reservoir of knowledge that often serves no use. Remember, knowledge without application has no purpose. The obsession with numbers, quantity over quality, begins here.
It is one of our first experiences of an institution with an unquenchable thirst for results. A measurement of how much we retain rather than how much we will use. A uniformity that is not only introduced by the need to look the same but by the naive expectation that students think the same.
The problem is that schools foster a narrow view of success through academics or sports. Children reared on the idea that happiness can be achieved, through results that bring success. Success in the form of tangible objects and possessions. Consumerism in a capitalist economy at its finest. A step-by-step guide. One is only satisfied once they have secured a house, a car, (inserts any luxury) etc. A game that requires each level to be unlocked, revealing new attainment of success. We are to blame for reducing self-worth down to societal standards. Value, reduced to the number of things you obtain. This moment is where we fail our youth and indoctrinate a falsehood of needing to live a life driven by wealth, power, and fame. We got kids believing that there is one path to take. No pressure. The naivety and ignorance behind telling our youth you are unique and different but, “here’s one door”- our job is to push you through.
Schools often promote academic competence without the
development of emotional/ social skills. Producing kids with an aggressive pursuit of ambition and very little understanding of mental health. So what can we do to shift our notion/ focus to developing healthy minds? Minds that are not dependent on academics or sport to produce a meaningful life. But ultimately an environment where student differences are accepted and celebrated. A new focus on happy, healthy children rather than successful children. Schools carry precious cargo through their halls and corridors each day. The duty to shape young minds. A task that big requires change and an understanding that human beings are multidimensional. All factors must be nurtured and cultivated.
So we understand the problem, how do we implement solutions? Like I mentioned earlier, we have to start with adjusting our objectives. Once we make a clear goal to adhere to, then we can meet those words with actions. Schools can start by investing in mental health training for teachers. Educate teachers on general mental health problems and the know-how for early intervention. Support teachers with the knowledge to assist students with mental health challenges by identifying and responding. Train teachers and staff to promote behavioral development. Learn the necessary ways that will limit feelings of hopelessness and sadness that roam through classes.
Implement mental health workshops where students can engage in relevant topics and understand themselves. Build self-awareness and introspection so that students can identify their emotions by linking their ‘known’ feelings to appropriate actions.
Schools can reach out to the education department and relevant boards to assess curriculum changes. They must be held accountable for pushing material that has no meaning or value. We must move towards content with life lessons and key takeaways. The kind of material that will promote relevant skills for the outside world. These changes can merge into a required subject. A subject dedicated to open discourse among students on the harsh realities and the nature of the world we live in. A step up from L.O. Lessons that equip students with the necessary tools to navigate through the ups and downs of life.
For schools to fully hold a positive space for learners, there must be room for a diversity of talents. Clubs and extracurriculars equally invested in specific niches to cultivate young artists, creatives, or innovators.
Schools should have a qualified school counselor on the premise to assist students in an emergency and general student checkups. Group sessions and individual consultations where students can speak their minds. A health professional that can bridge an understanding between the expectations of parents, school and the needs of the student. Someone who is an ear and voice for each child.
Schools must fully immerse themselves in creating a wellness ambiance by following a mental health calendar. Acknowledge and honor days that are important in educating mental illness.
The school can also make an effort to host mental health organizations or professionals for seminars. Lectures and masterclasses that create awareness while teaching students the key to mental wellbeing.
There are many ways schools can implement changes and teach the importance of intangibles. Moving away from the system we have all been accustomed to, to one we are deserving of. But change requires leaving familiarity behind and welcoming improvement. The education system has to understand its inner purpose and use it to mold a better future. Education with meaning.
Schools should feel fulfilled by their contribution of sending out well-developed students groomed holistically. Thinkers of the future, who don’t only hold certificates with A’s but a mind strong enough to cope through adversity.
What kind of humans do you want to walk out of your institution?