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Education ministry’s first mental health survey: Key findings, recommendations

New Delhi: First, the government conducted a mental health and well-being survey of 379,842 school students from across the country to gain insight into their perceptions of aspects related to their mental health and well-being.

The research was conducted in accordance with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which recognizes the importance of mental health and wellness, especially among school-age children to promote their holistic development.

The Union Ministry of Education and the Manodarpan cell of the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) – which aimed to provide psychosocial support to students, teachers and families – conducted the survey online among class students 6 to 12 between January and March 2022.

The Union’s Education Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, said the findings will be helpful to teachers, education administrators, policy makers and educators in preparing and planning pragmatic policies and programs aimed at improving students’ mental well-being. This will then promote their overall growth, well-being and happiness.

The study is divided into two cohorts: the middle phase (grades 6 to 8) and the secondary phase (grades 9 to 12). It attempted to present students’ perceptions of aspects of the personal self, social self, and academic perception. It also examined the feelings and emotions experienced and their preferred coping strategies.

HT looks at key findings under different categories and recommendations from the researchers.

Understanding oneself

According to the report, only 55% of students are always confident in their appearance, and dissatisfaction was higher among secondary students. “An individual’s perception of their physical appearance is an important aspect of self-esteem. Dissatisfaction with body image/appearance can have harmful emotional, psychological and physiological effects,” the report said.

It was further emphasized that only 43% of the total respondents admitted that they were able to adapt quickly to changes, and that the response of intermediate stage students (46%) was higher than that of secondary stage students (41%).

In terms of confidence, at least 28.4% of respondents were hesitant to ask questions if they had difficulty understanding. In addition, 23% of the students indicated that they often have difficulty starting a conversation. The report stressed that a “lack of confidence” can also “adversely” affect students’ learning, leading to feelings of insecurity, fear and anxiety.

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Understanding oneself in social context

In this section, the different dimensions of the social self were examined, such as social interactions, perception of qualities, behavior in social situations and peer pressure.

The report shows that a large proportion (85%) of the students surveyed usually give in to peer pressure. The study called negative peer pressure a “serious social and health risk” and suggested preparing adolescents to more effectively confront negative peer pressure.

“33% of the total respondents agreed that they usually try to please friends by sticking to what their friends want. The response trend was similar in both stages, with a small decrease as they progressed to the secondary stage,” the findings said.

Only 25% of students believe their teachers believe they are capable of leading others on all occasions. The responses of middle school students (28%) were higher than those of middle school students (22%), indicating a decrease in one’s perception of being a leader in the senior stage of education, according to the report. the report.

academic perceptions

The report defined academics as an important aspect of a student’s life that affects their overall well-being, and highlighted that only 39% of respondents said they were always satisfied with their academic performance. It calls for identifying the reasons for students’ low satisfaction with academic achievement, especially among high school students.

The report further emphasized that 81% of respondents cited “investigations, studies and results” as a major cause of anxiety. “The most commonly cited reason for anxiety was studies (50%) followed by surveys and outcomes (31%),” the survey results said, adding that secondary school students registered higher levels of anxiety in these parameters.

dr. Nimesh Desai, a psychiatrist and former director of the Institute of Human Behavior and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), said this fear should not be viewed through a psychiatric prism. “Some degree of anxiety and stress is part of all human lives, including adolescents. For adolescents, exams and performance should be one of the main causes. This can be handled through teacher and school counseling programs. However, there must also be a screening mechanism to identify those students who need clinical help,” he said.

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dr. Desai added that “physical appearance” has always been a common concern among adolescents due to various societal influences. As a Result, more students in secondary education appeared to be aware of their physical appearance.

It also highlighted that 36% of the total students agreed to do well in studies for social value and seeking approval.

Emotions and problems in the midst of Covid-19

The report highlighted that 45% of the overall responses reported feeling tired and low on energy, 34% were crying and 27% felt lonely 2-3 times a week. Students in secondary education indicated that they were clearly more concerned about the future than those in the middle.

The report found that during the Covid-19 pandemic, a higher percentage of secondary stage responses (48%) indicate that they were experiencing mood swings compared to their younger peers (37%). At least 13% of intermediate and 15% secondary students reported experiencing extreme emotions, such as ’emotional breakdown’.

dr. Desai said children were more affected during the pandemic. “Now, after more than two years of the pandemic, there is widespread psychological unrest among many populations, especially the young adolescents. This is due to the long-term effects of the lockdown, the absence of academic and extracurricular activities except online classes, and the resulting reduction in social activities. In addition, there are uncertainties about academic schedules and concerns about the potential impact on jobs and careers,” he said.

Gender Analysis

Looking at it from a gender perspective, the overall data shows that more boys said their commonly experienced emotion was “happiness” than girls. While boys reported experiencing greater happiness than girls, the opposite trend was observed for anxiety. Girls also reported experiencing more mood swings and feeling tired, tearful and lonely. This is further confirmed by a higher percentage of girls students who report feeling anxious about their studies, exams and results.

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In the case of third-gender students, ‘anxiety’ was reported as the most felt emotion, followed by loneliness and sadness. The frequency of such emotional experiences was reported as almost every day. Mood swings were the most intensely experienced emotion in these students. They also reported that they usually lose hope in stressful situations.

Recommendations

The researchers recommend that schools prepare to address and nurture students’ mental and emotional well-being by creating conditions for care, trust and inclusive practices. They should orient and sensitize stakeholders about the developmental characteristics of students at all stages.

They also recommended integrating mental and emotional well-being into the school curriculum at all stages of education, as well as the “teacher training curriculum”. They suggested making an assessment of mental well-being (personal, social and emotional) as reflected in NEP, 2020, part of the Holistic Progress Card (HPC) of students.

dr. Desai said all of these recommendations should be implemented in schools, and in the future, the study should also try to capture the “degree of the problem.” “The research must also include the perceived need for help. It will add more value to such an investigation,” he said.

Educational expert Meeta Sengupta said surveys are crucial because they keep policymakers informed about the realities in classrooms and students’ lives. “But it needs to be carefully designed to provide meaningful input useful for specific decisions and direction,” she said.

Sengupta said such studies will inform and influence teacher education. “Teachers need to know how to position their teaching, to be careful in creating safe learning environments and better engagement. However, one survey is never enough. This should be part of an approach. Even this or any other study will need to be updated and validated through more studies and other resources,” she said.

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