What’s the most important element of student success? Intellect? The educational institute? Resources? The amount of time spent studying? To your surprise it is indeed none of the above. The most important element of student success is mental health.
Before we begin, I would like to highlight the fact that mental health awareness for everyone is equally important, however as a student, it directly affects a student’s academic performance as well as energy levels, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and optimism, thus hindering performance. The following statistics prove why it is extremely important to bring to light.
- 75% of mental illnesses start before a child reaches their 18th birthday.
- 50% of mental health problems in adult life start before the age of 15.
- 10% of school children have a diagnosable mental illness. This means that, in a class of 30 students, three will have a mental health problem.
- 75% of young people with a mental health problem aren’t receiving treatment.
- 51% of young people feel embarrassed about mental illness.
So what exactly does the term “mental health” refer to?
Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
A mental illness is a physical illness of the brain that causes disturbances in thinking, behavior, energy or emotion that make it difficult to cope with the ordinary demands of life. The two most common mental health conditions are:
Anxiety Disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder (panic attacks), generalized anxiety disorder and specific phobias.
Mood Disorders – Mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar depression are characterized by difficulties in regulating one’s mood.
The reality is, even though it’s called “mental health”, it largely affects your physical health.
The student population is in some ways more vulnerable than other young people. Students are constantly having to adapt to new environments and ways of learning. Academic demands and workload increases and higher classes require much more self-directed learning and the capacity to manage time and prioritise work. Both of these can be easily disrupted by destructive mental health. As a result students can face academic decline that result in the need to repeat academic years or to even withdraw from university or college. Also, even less severe mental disorders can lead to failure on the part of an individual to fulfil his/her potential. Early adult life is a crucial stage in the transition from adolescence to independence as an adult. Underachievement or failure at this stage can have long-term effects on self-esteem and the progress of someone’s life.
Why is it so important for students specifically?
The majority of a person’s youth is spent either at school or college. The things they experience, the people they meet, and how they are treated immensely impacts their cognitive development and mindset. To make my point, here is a very simple scenario; a student who has been previously acing their classes has suddenly dropped from the mark, for this, they are constantly given destructive criticism such as, “slacking back” or “losing interest”. In many schools, the solution to this is sending the particular student to a counsellor and problem solved right? Wrong. In many cases, the problem may not be the student themselves, but rather the environment that they have been subjected to. Schools should be a safe place for students to express their views and initiate conversation on debate-worthy topics, without being laughed at. Teachers often claim children who like to go off-topic and into discussion on the subject as “distracting”. The same child grows up to silence themselves and suppress their curiosity. On the other hand, teachers who encourage and build up their students to express their opinions and motivate them to work hard by highlighting their good qualities and not just their bad ones, often go unnoticed. This kind of support is crucial and will remain with the student for life, as a reminder that they have the potential to reach great heights; they won’t give up easily.
Why should it be taken seriously?
Mental Health Illnesses are very much a reality and are caused by prolonged periods of destructive mental health. A mental illness can be defined as a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning. Throughout my life I have witnessed countless scenarios in which I found myself thinking, “Why does no-one take mental health seriously?” It all comes down to empathy. To really feel what the other person is going through and how your actions may affect them. When a student receives their education from a specific institute, they are not just being trained academically, but rather for the entirety of their personalities which then leads to who they eventually become. The notion that students must be criticised and be “used to” taking the pressures of academic testing and curriculum is far from normal. Criticism can be both destructive and constructive. A student’s weaknesses must be highlighted without exaggeration. If a student experiences symptoms of anxiety towards a particular situation, addressing the problem, instead of criticizing the student for being “dramatic” or telling them to “just deal with it”, would better solve the situation.
How can you help?
Be careful with your words. Don’t make assumptions. If a student is exhibiting signs of mental illness, cater to them. Listen and communicate non-judgmentally. Sometimes students have been hearing particular negative phrases for so long that they have begun to believe them. Sometimes what you say so casually, ends up being on a student’s mind for weeks on end. They carry these words into their exams like heavy weight on their shoulders and then you wonder why they don’t do well. No matter how well-prepared, smart, intelligent, organized, or even privileged a student may be. At the end of the day it always comes down to mental health. The thoughts that provoke them. Are they being encouraged? Are they in the right environment where they will thrive? Increase mental health awareness as well as understanding the importance of mental health. Telling a student that what they’re going through is “not a big deal” manifests into them not trusting their own voice. Being around emotionally unavailable people manifests into a student not being able to express what they need. The more acknowledgement and empathy there is for better mental health, the better everyone’s lives will be.
At the end of the day; every student wants to do well. All they need is a tad bit of encouragement and they can do wonders. All you need to do is reassure them that they are capable and believe in them. Unfortunately, the stigma keeps people from getting help. Mental health should not be something to be ashamed about or thought of differently. When mental health illnesses are treated equally to other illnesses, more students will have the courage to get help and better their lives.
Aishah Asim – A2