A national mental health survey conducted by the government this year revealed that middle and high school students in India are struggling with anxiety due to academics, exams and various other factors. Some counselors, however, believe that parental pressure and peer pressure also cause anxiety in students.
According to the survey conducted by NCERT, “frequent mood swings” have been identified as a major area of concern across grades, gender and types of schools. Eighty-one percent of respondents reported that academics are the cause of their anxiety (and girls were more stressed than boys). However, personal independence, social interactions, peer relationships, career concerns, and subject specialization also play a role in increasing anxiety.
According to a WHO survey, 10% of children and adolescents suffer from mental disorders, but most of them do not seek help. The problems that children suffer during this age extend into adulthood and limit their opportunities to lead full lives. “Globally, an estimated 1 in 7 (14%) 10-19 year olds suffer from mental illness (1), but these remain largely undiagnosed and untreated,” the report states.
Covid effect or…
Mental health has been a hot topic of discussion lately, especially during the pandemic. Although students at the school are now openly sharing their problems, counselors believe the children have been suffering from anxiety for a long time.
Some counselors interviewed by indianexpress.com said awareness on the issue had increased due to the Covid pandemic, empowering students to open up about their mental health issues.
A major problem since the pandemic, however, is that children have been deprived of self-confidence.
Akanksha Kukreja, consultant child and adolescent psychologist, said: “Pre-Covid children were worried about how school was and about managing time and studies. However, in the post-pandemic days when students return to the classroom with their friends, seek validation from social media and friends.”
In addition, students now meet with their peers daily and are asked to fit in with people of different temperaments and personalities, which can also cause them anxiety.
The survey’s findings are based on responses from nearly 3,800 students across the country. Of the 81 percent who criticized academics, 49 percent identified studying as the main trigger and 28 percent reported exams and results as anxiety triggers.
Counselors believe that much of this pressure on academics, exams and results comes from parents, who sometimes place the burden of achieving their own dreams on their children.
“Most of the time, parents start comparing their children with other children in their close circles, or even with their siblings. This leads to unwanted pressure and can also breed an unnecessary competitive nature in the child,” said Sidhhant Singh of edtech TopRankers.
Child psychologist Jyoti Kanda explained that children mirror their parents, especially during the school years. These are considered developmental years and if parents compare their children to their peers or siblings, “the pressure will increase and even make the child feel that they have to score exceptionally high.”
Parental comparisons, which can be a form of criticism or motivation, can have lifelong consequences, with children developing anxiety if they are not always on top of things as they grow up.
Following the trends of Insta
“I go to a good school, and the problem is that as much as I try to catch up with others on what they see and wear and listen to and what kind of Instagram profiles they keep, it gets too hectic and times, I end up getting mad at myself. This time I was really embarrassed because I didn’t have a nighttime skin care routine, but apparently it’s a “cool” thing. I went out of my way to research one and now I just lie that I have it. It makes me nervous when I think about talking to my classmates,” said *Krisha (*name changed on request), a class 9 student in Noida.
In the NCERT survey, some children in private schools reported lack of confidence about their looks. However, Kendriya Vidyalaya students were confident about their physical appearance, which was attributed to their lower exposure to the Internet.
Like Krisha, many students these days have access to smartphones and social media, meaning they engage in peer-to-peer activities throughout the day. Kids who scroll through their peers’ social media accounts and see posts about their happy or “happening” lives often forget that people only show the bright side of their lives on the Internet.
The world of today’s youth is very restricted to social media, and that it also affects their thought process is a concern. “Kids need to remember that social media brings them pressure, not peace,” Akanksha said.
How to fight mental health problems
In the NCERT survey, students said that relying on friends and family, and practicing yoga and meditation are effective coping strategies.
Jyoti Kanda advises students to monitor their daily routine. “Diet is very important to maintain mental health. At this age, we end up consuming a lot of gluten and junk food, which can negatively affect a child’s physical and mental health. Adequate sleep is also very important for mental well-being,” Kanda said.
Sidhhant Singh believes that students should reach out to their loved ones, instead of remaining silent. “Kids should talk freely with their parents, teachers, counselors or even older siblings. It is important that they have an open relationship with these people, and ask them for advice and help whenever they need it. If they only approach their friends of the same age, this may not be very helpful, as older people will have more power of understanding, patience and experience to help students. Talk, instead of Googling for answers,” she said. “Children should also be encouraged to read autobiographies and motivational books. Some people’s reading experiences can help children realize that not they are alone in this struggle and that many have traveled the same path”.
Akanksha said that “internal validation” was something that needs to be developed in students. “It is important for children to realize that they have to compete with themselves and not with others. Another helpful way to fight this battle can be to engage in a hobby that children enjoy and are good at, as this will also help them feel good about themselves,” she added.