Mental health through Social Emotional Learning
Though India is stated to be rich in diversity and color, this democratic county is seeing increasing degrees of intolerance, insecurity, and impatience. The three ‘i’s, unfortunately, are leading people to disconnect from their selves and from their social settings too. When compassion, concern and common sense are the need of the hour, it is deeply saddening to see a state losing its citizens to unfathomable situations and frightening causes. It is time we dwelt deep into what spirals this loss of hope and life. Life as you know, feel, and experience is defined by the spaces, choices, and expressions one is entitled to, during one’s lifespan. The permissibility of these is often questioned periodically, by external and internal factors. This, I should say, leads to the conflict and questioning of self-existence and co-existence. Let us get to the beginning of how a child starts to envision and embrace life, through varied ecosystems, conflicting ideas, and challenging experiences. The skills that one conjures up to maneuver through the ups and downs lead to the mental emotional shaping of a child in her/his growing up years. Though UNICEF suggested that ‘there is no definitive list’ of psychosocial skills; it enumerates psychosocial and interpersonal skills as essentials alongside literacy and numeracy skills for the general well-being of an individual.
The World Health Organization furthered this by identifying the necessary skillsets as life skills that are deemed as essentials in an individual to adapt and face the demands and challenges in everyday life. These ten life skills are Self-Awareness, Empathy, Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, Decision Making, Problem Solving, Interpersonal Relationship, Effective Communication, Coping with Stress, and Coping with emotions. To learn the nuances of each life skill and the application of it in everyday life, it was recommended that these ten life skills be imparted at school levels. Even after two decades after this was first suggested, it is unfortunate that these skills are not given due emphasis by stakeholders in education. With half of India’s population below the age of 25, there is no other platform than educational institutions to propagate and promulgate the need of these skills individually. The shortcomings to mandate the facilitation of these skills for a child can be read (from secondary data) as one of the significant reasons for failing mental health in an individual.
We watched and heard way too many tragedies in the last few months. In retrospection, most of it could have been stopped by timely mental healthcare and timely intervention by external sources. It is never too late to start anything new, it is said.
Against this backdrop for the need for better mental health care, let us start to accept that a 360-degree change at the perception level is inevitable now. This starts with understanding and awareness of the Self. Rightly put as the basic life skill, the path to growth, the path to realisation and the path to compassion starts from the self. Now with the pandemic, schools and homes having become synonymous with each other, the facilitation can be introduced at each home. Parents, doubling up as teachers, should first open their hearts and minds to the changing paradigms in parenting and childcare. My child or our children, as much as are ours, are individuals too. With their own likes and dislikes, their own visions and goals, their own needs and wants, and their own sexual orientations and gender identities. Parental adamancy to see their reflection in their children and institutional pressure to academically excel are proving detrimental to the growth of children into adults with voice and choice. Wouldn’t it be better and beautiful if parents and teachers hand-hold children only correcting their wrongs while giving them the absolute liberty to explore themselves?
The road to self-awareness should be steer cleared of assumptions, judgements and blames by guardians, parents and communities to facilitate a positive change in a child’s life; prompting self-introspection in adults too. Social emotional learning should be the Key word, moving forward.
-to be continued
(The author is an educationist and founder of Zocio, an organisation working extensively in the social emotional learning space. She works closely with children, teachers, public and professionals on topics related to communication, gender, sexuality, diversity and inclusion. She is a social entrepreneur who facilitates change through interactions and interventions. You can reach her at email@example.com.)