The Centre is set to launch a program under which schoolteachers will be trained to identify the early warning signs of stress and mental health problems among students, and provide them and their families with the required support. The union education ministry has constituted an 11-member committee to develop content for the training within the next three months.

Officials said the teacher-training program will be conducted under the ministry’s “Manodarpan” initiative that was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July last year to provide support to students during the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. The training will be provided in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI).

An official in the ministry’s department of school education and literacy said that the “psycho-social needs” of children and youth, aged between 15-24 years, has been compromised amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “It has brought the concerns of mental health and well-being in the picture even with more prominence... Schools play a significant role in the life of children and therefore can play a pivotal role to enhance the nature and scope of mental health interventions, address problems early, and in doing so reduce the stigma attached with mental illness. Therefore, there is a need to develop school-based interventions which can reduce risk factors and promote the mental health and well-being of children and adolescents,” said the official, who did not want to be named.

According to an Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) 2005 study, 12% to 13 % of school students in India suffer from emotional, behavioural, and learning problems such as anxiety, depression, learning difficulties, and suicidal tendencies, among others. Similarly,

The State of the World’s Children report by Unicef released this year said mental health disorders among children and youth mostly remain undiagnosed as most of them are hesitant to seek any support or treatment

“Early childhood years are the foundational years and are critical periods for human development. Any event that occurs during this time has a long-lasting effect on academic, social, emotional and behavioural achievement in adulthood. The majority of the mental disorders occur during the transition period from childhood to young adulthood, with up to 1 in 5 individuals suffering from a clinically relevant mental health problem before the age of 25,” the official said.

Another official in the ministry said that the idea is to sensitise and make schoolteachers aware of all the available interventions so that they can help students. “Broadly the program would aim to inform teachers and staff on identifying characteristics, behaviours, symptoms and the requisite assistance for identified mental illness/problems. The attempt is to promote social and emotional competency and build resilience among children. Overall, we aim to create and ensure a positive and safe school environment for all students,” the official said, adding the teachers will work in collaboration with counsellors, special educators and mental health professionals.

The 11-member committee that will develop content for the training will be chaired by psychiatrist and a member of the working group on Manodarpan Dr Jitendra Nagpal. The program is likely to kick-off ahead of the next academic session.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Hindustan Times. The original article can be found at https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/schoolteachers-to-be-trained-to-identify-mental-health-issues-among-students-101637812046586.html)