Last week, a professor of a Ghatkopar college shot himself dead on the campus. While the reasons haven’t been clearly stated, reports mentioning him to be withdrawn, aloof, and not participating in any extra-curricular activities paint a melancholic personality; perhaps suffering from a depressive disorder. It is also notable that none of the students or faculty members sensed anything was amiss the day he took his life.
Mental health disorders are a silent killer. And especially in the teaching profession, such cases are on a rapid rise with stressful working conditions, poor paying scales, almost nil personal time and nonstop responsibilities especially with the corporatization of the education sector. Ironically enough, the nature of job is also as such that teachers can’t afford to get depressed!
Students look up to teachers and respect a calm and confident exterior. Teachers are the primary guardians of the children at school with the most important role of shaping young minds. Their temperament needs to be humane, patient, encouraging. Each period or session needs to be delivered spot on since that might be the only time the topic will be dealt in so much detail. If you are a preschool teacher, there is the added stress of looking out for communicating and relating to 20-25 odd children, each of whose communication skills and means vary! To add to this, there isn’t any fixed bracket of symptoms to ascertain if one is suffering from depression.
Depressive disorders come in different forms and are manifested differently. The 3 most common types are major depressions, dysthymia and bipolar disorder. Major depression is manifested by a combination of symptoms that interfere with the ability to work, study, sleep, eat and enjoy pleasurable activities once pursued. Not everyone depressed experiences every symptom. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person and also over time. Hence, spotting depression isn’t as easy a task as spotting a fever or a cold or a headache! There are trained doctors and specialist counselors who can spot one. And yet in India, we hardly acknowledge the need to visit a psychologist or psychiatrist, partly due to social stigma of being seen as ‘mad’.
Depression can also affect children. In such a situation, a child may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that the parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative, grouchy, and feel misunderstood. Because normal behaviors vary from one childhood stage to another, it can be difficult to tell whether a child is just going through a temporary “phase” or is suffering from depression. If there has been a marked change in behavior and physical ailments have been ruled out, it would do good to get the child evaluated by a mental health professional.
As in the case of physical ailments, it is critical to catch a mental ailment early on since a simple depression can turn into a major one later on in life. Schools must mandatorily check the mental health of teachers regularly as we do for any health certificate. We must work actively not only to promote mental health awareness programs, but also to appoint an in-house certified mental health professional or counselor for students and teachers in each school. One of the ways to work on depression is to ‘externalize’ the problem, a technique used in narrative therapy which has often been associated with good humour & playfulness as well as careful and thoughtful practice. The narrative approach is best summarized as ‘The Person is not the problem but the problem is the problem’.
I have had the privilege of attending the one-of-its-kind ‘Mental Health Training Program’, at Ummeed Child Development Center, which is doing commendable work to train professionals from all fields of society like teachers, heads of institutions, professionals dealing with children, adults, doctors, developmental pediatricians, and social workers. It’s a speck in the ocean but at least a START somewhere… Preserving sanity isn’t a privilege but is a necessity!
Director, KK Kids Learning Systems, MHTP 5 participant
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