Why is the mental health of UAE students important?

[Along with academics, developing self-esteem, stress management, and resilience skills need to be taught in schools to students.]

In 2015, a grade 10 student committed suicide because she did not perform well in her exams and feared her parents’ reaction.

Mental health of students in the UAE can often be overlooked, even with several reports of teens committing suicide from fear of low scores or the stress caused by exams emerging in these past few years.

In 2014, a grade 11 student in the UAE wrote a suicide note on his exam paper, explaining the pressure he faced in the CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) system. In 2015, a grade 10 student committed suicide because she did not perform well in her exams and feared her parents’ reaction.

These tragic incidents are not limited to the UAE. In India, media reports of students killing themselvels because of low scores are, sadly, all too common. Just last month, a 22-year-old student in Vengola, Kerala, killed herself over fears of scoring low and disappointing her parents, the Times of India reported.

The growing number of suicide cases among students due to academic-related stress begs the question – are schools and parents are doing enough to help their students and children?

One school in Sharjah has assi-gned mentors to students to ensure the young ones’ wellbeing.

“Little things can make a huge difference to students who are experiencing issues. In senior grades, the students are provided with mentors. The pastoral care provided by teacher-mentors assist students in developing positive self-esteem, healthy risk-taking, goal setting and negotiation, thus enhancing their strengths and other protective factors and contributing to their resiliency,” Anitha Sanalkumar, senior school supervisor at Our Own English High School in Sharjah, told Khaleej Times.

“The teacher-mentors are in constant contact with their mentees, keeping a close watch on them. They regularly discuss progress and ways to organise their upcoming deadlines, also contacting other teachers whose assignments the student may not be able to hand in on time.

The mentees, on the other hand, find a person to whom they can confide their inner fears without being judged. At all times, confidentiality is maintained. The school counsellor also makes visits to the class and also have one-on -one sessions with the senior students. Parents too meet up with the counsellors.”

The school has also implemented a stress management feature into their school hours for their students. Teachers talk about how to handle pressure and balance their studies during assemblies.

One other school also offers counselling services to their students in order to ensure their pupils’ wellbeing.

“We offer a wide array of counselling interventions to support and promote development for our students. Individually, we provide supportive problem-solving counselling as well as crisis management. We also promote lessons and small groups on study skills and maintaining healthy lifestyles,” Louis Johannes Fourie, school counsellor at Wesgreen International School, said.

‘Don’t pass on your anxiety to children’

Educators are encouraging parents not to put “too much pressure” on their children when it comes to their studies and exam scores.

One senior school supervisor at a Sharjah school said parents often “force their dreams on their children” and should instead help kids map out their own route in life.

The teachers’ comments come following the growing number of students who have committed suicide due to the pressure to score or retain top results in exams and the fear of disappointing their parents. “Instead of pressurising for unrealistic expectations and impossible ambitions, parents need to understand the talents and abilities of their children and mold them accordingly,” Rachel Pereira, senior school supervisor at Our Own English High School in Sharjah, said.

“Some parents tend to force their dreams on children, and instead should believe in their children and help them realise their own dreams. Once the mutual trust is built, half the battle is won.”

Johannes Fourie, a school counsellor at the Wesgreen International School, insisted that parents should take a more active role in their children’s lives, including noticing sudden behavioural changes and attend meetings with their teachers.

“Being a parent today is challenging. Our world is changing every day and young people are exposed to information and resources like never before. As a parent, it is important to find a balance bet-ween setting out clear instructions and giving our kids the space to learn responsibility,” Fourie said.

“Children feel safe in structured, organised routines. Enforced study times from 4pm to 6pm during early year schooling is a good example of promoting healthy study habits during early years, but when moving into young adulthood, kids need to learn to take responsibility for a routine that works for them.

“It is also important to involve yourself by attending meetings with teachers, to get a holistic picture of your child’s academic achievement and behaviour at school. Most importantly, parents need to be aware of sudden changes in normal behaviour and should show emotional support by spending quality time with their children and having meaningful conversations.”

One educator said parents should not transfer their own anxiety onto their children.

Anitha Sanalkumar, senior school supervisor at Our Own English High School in Sharjah, said: “Parents can help the child to develop self-discipline, self-direction, self-confidence and a sense of achievement. They are not to transfer their anxiety on the child. Help work out the child’s schedule instead of nagging them. Try to gain your child’s confidence and discuss her problems with him or her.

“Most importantly, improve the parent-teacher partnership. It can be mutually beneficial. Parents and teachers can both share valuable insights on a child’s personality. Strong partnership enables reinforcement (at home and at school) of strategies to support progress, and early intervention in identifying and addressing problems.”

Depression is more than just being down or sad; it may hit anyone

Richard Rende (Research professor at the Alpert Medical School of Brown University)

Depression is a complex disorder, one that can cause substantial impairment. While it may be thought of as an adult disorder, depression can manifest in children and adolescents. If fact, such “early onset” is an especially important marker of increased risk for future epis-odes of depression in adulthood with increasing severity. As such, it is important for parents and caretakers to be aware of the poss-ibility of depression in children and adolescents – and be aware of the empirically studied treatment options. Depression can be tricky to spot. All children and adolescents can experience mood downsings and periodic sadness.

However, depression is more than just being down or sad. Yes, extreme sadness, being tearful, and having episodes of crying are certainly important signs, especially when these indicators are more frequent and intense. But there are other symptoms as well. Irritability and hostility may increase. There can be a loss of pleasure in activities that are usually favourites, and withdrawal and avoidance of social interactions, even with friends.

Changes in sleep (either more or less) and appetite (either more or less) can also occur. There is no one constellation that defines depression, and of course all people can experience depression differently. However, you should be aware of any of these symptoms, and if other symptoms of depression become evident as well. It’s more about seeing more and more signs (as well as severity) rather than specific ones – if you see your child experiencing more than one or two of these symptoms in concert, it should get your attention.

Also, be aware that depression can be episodic, especially when it becomes severe, meaning that it can seem to come out of nowhere. Symptoms in pre-adolescents can be harder to spot, but again if you look for how different symptoms cluster, that can be telling.

Treatment options should be considered essential. In the moment, depression can have many negative consequences for youth. First and foremost, a depressed youth is suffering. In addition, many facets of their life (academic, social, personal) can become compromised, creating a burden for them.

Two fundamental types of treatments have been shown to be of benefit for youth. First, individual therapy is a first line option, one with substantial backing by research. Of particular note is cognitive-behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be of clinical value across a multitude of studies. This is short term, face-to-face therapy, and it is important to not only find a therapist who is trained to treat depression in this age group but also to acknowledge that there needs to be a good “match” between the child and therapist, especially as some youth may be reluctant to engage in therapy.

While there are many challenges in recognising signs of depression, being vigilant is the best practice for parents and caretakers in a time when we are seeing especially high rates of depression in youth.

Being informed about the broad conclusions from research on therapies for depression will facilitate finding, and collaborating with, the right professionals.

Greater focus on mental health needed

“Many times, the mental health of youth is overlooked when children don’t share their feelings with their parents or teacher who can guide them. Mental health is actually a state of wellbeing of the mind, and especially in childhood. which is important in every stage of life. The mental health of a person can also be determined by the child’s behaviour. If proper mental health is being maintained in a child since childhood, then the child would be stress-free and there wouldn’t be any bad memories of the past troubling them in the future.

Dhanvi Sayani,Grade 7, Gems Our Own English High School, Dubai

Youth is the future of the nation and their health is to be prioritised. The 21st century youth believes in fast and easy ways. We neither have to move an inch nor think a bit and find everything at our fingertips. But often, adults don’t notice or pay attention to their actions, which is labelled as a ‘phase or ‘tantrums’ that might be potentially caused by bullying, harassment, excessive academic or extracurricular pressures or sickness and death of a loved one etc. These can aggravate or initiate mental illness. I think that mental health is an important but often overlooked component of youth’s well-being during the transition to adulthood.

Hurairah Faatimah Muzammil, Gems Our Own English High School, Dubai

I don’t think the mental health of the youth is often overlooked. But, I feel the youth have more opportunities and platforms to enhance and polish their skills. Especially in UAE, the government gives more attention in encouraging abilities of the youth. In my opinion, everyone should recognise how to choose their path, eventually leading a healthy and exciting way of life in this blessed world. As a parent, we should always keep monitoring our youngsters and help them choose the right path. It will boost mental health of the youth. That will help bring about a brighter future.

Shadira Mohamed, Parent

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Stress-free education

The purpose of education is to lay a strong foundation for a prosperous life, but what’s the point if anxiety and stress from the same education system ends up taking the very life it is supposed to nurture. Academic institutions, parents must help students cope better with stress and let them know that poor results are not a reflection of who they are or what their future might look like. It simply means efforts need to be made to explore what students are good at and nurture those talents and capabilities.

Source: Khaleej Times