‘Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.’- WHO
As we move towards the middle of the Mental Health Awareness Month (read May), we ponder on the ‘real’ meaning of mental health. Does it mean being kind to someone and showing gratitude? Would it mean living in a state of bliss devoid of any struggles? Or does it mean to be able to fit into this ever so dynamic world?
The understanding of mental health has gained momentum since the turn of this century and has become the focus of open conversations over the last 2 years. You might remember the fervour surrounding the disclosure of mental health issues by a renowned actress from the Indian film industry a few years back. There was, however, something different and new in this revelation. A fact was shared, and a theory challenged. People all over began to understand that mental health issues could actually affect anyone, the seemingly privileged segment of society too. There was a mass awakening of sorts to the acceptance of mental health issues. In her public disclosure, the actress openly declares, ‘One of the kindest things I did for myself was to accept my condition. I didn’t fight it.’
This got us thinking about how difficult it is to accept mental illness as any other illness. Low acceptance rates are predominant not only in our country but are prevalent all over the world.
Acceptance of mental health issues is a leading step in reaching out and seeking support.
One of the major causes of poor acceptance of mental health distress is the stigma attached to it. Although this has reduced over the last few years, it continues to affect the wellbeing of our society. The thought of being marked as someone seeking help can lead to worsening symptoms and reduced likelihood of seeking treatment or support. Stigma can manifest itself in many ways, both profoundly and subtly. Treating people with mental health issues differently, reacting or negatively judging someone with a mental health problem, and avoiding or underestimating people with mental health issues can be some of the causes of stigma.
When we speak of mental health, schools and universities cannot be left behind. Children continue to remain the future of our civilisation and it has become imperative to prioritise their wellbeing.
In our first year at the school, we understood that a lot of thought went into raising awareness about this issue. There was keen involvement of students, teachers and leadership to accept mental health issues as being predominant around them. To achieve this, it was understood that simply campaigning about it would not be the answer.
The idea of having wellbeing as a concept catering to the whole school thus took shape. It developed out of a yearning to reach out, destigmatise mental health issues and reiterate that seeking support is normal. When we talk of wellbeing, it does not mean devoid of illness, rather an acceptance of a positive state of health. To achieve this positive state of health the school directed its focus from short term benefits and victories to long term achievements.
Building on wellbeing as a major game changer was a slow but steady process. It did involve reaching out bit by bit, one child at a time. Students felt uneasy as if shaken and stirred out of a slumber but soon poured in with their thoughts and feelings. Gradually, ideas were being shared, feelings were being acknowledged and stigmas were being broken. Acceptance became the new buzz word.
The idea of introducing wellbeing in schools comes with inducing a sense of gratitude, hope, emotional regulation and resilience to name a few. These facets of wellbeing have been found to contribute highly to building positive relationships and improve academic performance. Gratitude is positively correlated with greater absorption in meaningful activities, more life satisfaction and more social integration.
In addition, emotional regulation helps students get along with peers and teachers, exhibit pro social behaviour and adjust to new classrooms (Furlong, Gilman and Heubner 2014).
It was clearly visible from the wellbeing programme that students were not the only ones to benefit. From the planning to the implementation phase, teachers were able to recognise the importance of going beyond the academic curriculum to achieve excellence. There was immense self-reflection and insight while delivering the programme.
Wellbeing at TBS is here to stay. It does not restrict itself to the confines of a classroom, it rather provides a space and a platform where students are given a safe space to express, a sense of belonging to relate and counsellors to reach out to.
Understanding mental health has undergone its own share of trials and tribulations. What has remained constant is its underlying need to be accepted and recognised completely in society. When we empower a person with any kind of mental health condition, we help in uplifting a tremendous burden off the society as a whole. To recognise means to repair and with proper support comes the belief that ‘I accept my condition, I don’t have to fight it anymore.’
- The New York Times