In recent times, the conversation around mental health has become more prevalent than ever. More people – celebrities, activists, athletes etc. are starting conversations around mental health in order to break the stigma surrounding it.
The common narrative is that mental health issues aren’t ‘real’, that people are faking it in order to get sympathy or that they just need to ‘suck it up’. In reality, on an average, 792 million people world wide struggle with some form of mental health issue.
264 million people worldwide suffer from depression and 284 million people with an anxiety disorder.
These statistics however do not present the complete picture – most people struggling with mental health issues are undiagnosed and do not receive any form of treatment.
Among teenagers approximately 1 in 5 teens between ages 12 to 18 suffer from at least one form of mental health disorder yet teenage mental health and mental health support systems in schools, facilitated by teachers, is an issue that is widely looked over.
For teenagers struggling with depression or anxiety a strong sense of reinforcement at home and in school is essential.
All school going children spend a minimum of 7 hours a day in school surrounded by other students and their teachers yet less than 1% of the children and adolescents struggling with mental health in India receive treatment due to lack of resources and awareness in schools.
An important part of providing a support system in school is broaching the subject of mental health with teachers.
Not only do teachers serve as people from whom you learn, they’re also responsible in giving tests and grades and taking into account a student’s mental health during exam season or when an important assignment is due is an essential step in making way for a more holistic learning environment.
Students should be given the license to navigate their mental health and that can be facilitated best by the people they are surrounded by the most.
Most students are hesitant about broaching the topic of mental health with them because they’re afraid that they won’t be taken seriously or that teachers will think they’re making excuses.
In Indian classrooms, students are subjected to mind numbing pressure and unhealthy expectations, however, taking a break and specifically asking for one is important so that you don’t burn out and continue being productive in the long run.
Emailing your professors and being honest will help them understand your circumstances better so don’t lie or make up an excuse. Ask if you can meet with them to discuss your missed classes or assignments and how you can make up.
Work with them to come up with a plan in case they have specific requirements or accommodations in mind.
Vulnerability Is Okay
Another common reason why students find it difficult to bring up the topic of mental health with their professors is because they are unsure of whether it’s appropriate in a professional setting.
After all, your teachers aren’t your friends, is it okay to talk about your personal issues with them?
Being honest about your mental health and being vulnerable is okay as long as you go about it in the right way. Start by writing an email to your professor outlining the mental health issue you’re struggling with.
You can also make a request to meet separately with them so that you can explain your situation to them in person. Only bring up what you are comfortable with sharing and suggest what they can do to accommodate your needs better.
Importance Of Accountability
It is also important to take accountability for your actions. Teachers appreciate it when students take responsibility. Asking for a break is perfect as long as you make it known that you’re willing and eager to cover up any missed work at the earliest possible convenience.
Keep checking in with your professor as the term progresses in case you fall behind again so that they’re aware of what’s happening at your end and can continue assisting you in whatever way they can.
Communicate Your Boundaries
In a classroom with more than 40-50 students it can get tricky for a teacher to balance every student’s needs and make sure what they’re teaching gets through to everyone. Oftentimes while discussing a certain topic, your teacher may stray into territory or topics which may trigger you.
“To prevent that, make sure you are clear on what your triggers are, what conversations you are comfortable listening or being a part of and which ones you would like to sit out,” a teacher at the J.B. Petit High School told YKA.
Make a list and at the start of the term talk to your teacher and explain to them that you’d like the leeway to step out of class or take a small break and come back once they’re done with the discussion.
Take The First Step
The most important point however, out of all of these is to take the first step. Teachers do not always intuitively cater to the needs of their students, so it’s important to take up space in order to receive what you need, as daunting as the prospect may sound.
Raise your voice and make your request with confidence because you deserve a more equitable system of learning and when you aren’t provided with one it’s important to create one for yourself in whatever way you can.
A conversation with the student counselor at The J.B Petit High School revealed that throughout the formative school years, the common misconception leading to an overlooking of adolescent mental health is that children are supposed to be resilient.
“Frequent phrases like, ‘My childhood was so carefree’ and ‘I wish I could go back to being a child’ communicate the expectation that your childhood should also be carefree and happy.
However, the resilience it takes to be a ‘carefree’ teenager in the 21st century comes at an internal cost very few are willing to acknowledge, giving root to the stigma surrounding mental health,” they stressed further.
The tips in this guide are not meant to be set in stone and may not be universally applicable as there will always be intolerant teachers who refuse to hold space for your needs.
However, by raising more awareness around us, having more conversations and treating mental health issues with empathy we can take the small steps necessary to create more accessible and equitable mental health support systems.