WHY SHOULD WE FOCUS ON SCHOOLS?
Unfortunately, when we observe the phenomena of mental health, children are often the most susceptible group which experiences various difficulties with their mental health. The vulnerable nature of children, as well as their ever-growing neurological, physiological and physical development, means they are unable to protect themselves from mental health difficulties. Children with mental health challenges experience difficulty at school for a variety of reasons who are unable to stay at school due to un-addressed mental health needs.
Research has highlighted that 1 in 5 children at school have a diagnosable mental health condition which affects their emotional, behavioral and cognitive development. Amongst this, 10% of children have severe impairment due to their symptoms, which often influences their levels of functioning within schools, homes and communities.
There are often two main surroundings for children: school and home. A child’s mental wellbeing can be affected in different ways within the school environment. The symptoms experienced by one child and the management of these symptoms can differ amongst children. One child’s symptoms may be really hard to manage at school while another child with the same condition may not have much difficulty. In addition, like all of us, kids with mental health challenges have good days and bad, as well as, times periods when they are doing really well and times when their mental health symptoms become more difficult to manage.
Additionally, poor maintenance and support within the classroom setting, may result towards poor management of the symptoms. For example, children and youth with anxiety disorders may often struggle in school because they are so pre-occupied with their ‘worries’ that it makes it hard for them to pay attention. They may have physical complaints like stomach and headaches and may be frequently absent. They may also have trouble starting or completing their work because they are worried that it won’t be right. Sometimes their fear of being embarrassed, or getting something wrong or their fear of having to interact with others may lead them to them to avoid group and social activities and perhaps school all-together.
HOW CAN WE SUPPORT THESE CHILDREN?
Social interactions and performance are two components that determine the success of a child in school. However, these components are often the main areas affected by mental health challenges experienced by children. Although, by implementing strategies within schools, the mental wellbeing of a child can be improved by maximizing the strengths of these components over the weaknesses.
In some situations, when schools adopt specialized practices to assist children, the overall mental wellbeing of the child can be improved. For example, if a child needs help for difficulties with social interactions or communication difficulties, an occupational therapist and speech therapist can be introduced to help teach them new skills and have them practice using them by role-playing or trying them out in small groups.
Some other responses include:
Article written by:
Nancy Wanjiru Kabiru
Founder and Lead Psychologist
Hisia Psychology Consultants