How Schools Can Provide Mental Health Lessons Without Triggering Episodes

Mental issues like depression, panic attacks and anxiety disorders, which were so far considered adults’ problems, are affecting a lot more kids than ever before. That’s why media reports of kids committing suicide or resorting to self-harm – the extreme outcomes of such problems – are seen frequently. Unfortunately, most adults, including parents, believe that children do not suffer from mental health problems. They see childhood as a happy fairy tale in a person’s life. But sadly, it is not so in a world ridden with wars, terrorist attacks and applications like Blue Whale that livestream death.

Though advocates of mental health call for the introduction of mental health as a curriculum in schools, for educating the kids, having an open discourse on it is not without its share of challenges. Talking about mental health in schools is like walking a tightrope. There is no knowing how a piece of information could turn on its head and trigger an episode for a vulnerable child.

The problem though is that in a world that has got smaller because of the internet and the omnipresent social media, it is impossible to avoid mental health discussion. The situation is so precarious that nowadays even a youngster goes live with his own suicide’s livestreaming on social media. So, the challenge is to address the concern of mental health, yet do it right. Here is what can be done:

Test the waters: It is necessary first to test the waters or the level of understanding about a mental health concern. For example, one could begin by questioning children about depression, the most common mental health condition in the world today. Depending on the kind of response they get, the educator could delve into the subject further.

Have clarity: It is essential for the educator to have clarity before they hold forth on topics related to mental health. For that, some amount of homework is needed. For example, they could be informed about children who have undergone a recent bereavement. In the aftermath of a violence in school, or the death of a friend, it is essential that they are careful about the content of their speech.

Follow-up: It is important to follow up with the mental health counselor in school about the response to the class. Not only that, the kind of responses the children had and their specific concerns should be detailed in a memo for the records. In addition, it is essential to prepare the parents as well in advance so that they know how to address the questions that the child might have.

Screening for mental health disorder: Screening children for mental health conditions is a logical step for preventing incidents. In a class that has children with a problem, the educator could exercise restraint.

Avoid usage of distressing visuals: Visuals could have a distressing impact on the child’s mind. So, whether it is the image of a child with visible traces of self-harm on their body, or a visual of an anorexia, it is better to avoid these as the children are quick to take the representation.

Avoid going into graphic details: While any class on suicide prevention cannot happen without a mention of the means with which people kill themselves, one should avoid the details lest children make it a point to look it up in Google.