On the eve of World Mental Health Day, Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (GSCPCR) has called upon Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant to bring ‘Mental Health’ into the classroom of each school by making a provision for schools to have a Counsellor.
In a letter to the Chief Minister, GSCPCR Chairperson Peter F. Borges writes: “Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. Surrounding the theme, ‘Mental health is a universal human right”, the Goa State Commission for Protection of Child Rights is calling for one important action from your government – to bring mental health into the
classroom of each school – one counsellor for each school, a demand which the Hon’ble Commission has already recommended in early 2023.
“Past few years, post COVID-19, the Goa SCPCR has engaged on ground level, have had several convergence meetings with stakeholders, understanding the mental health of the children and critically examining the mental health needs as well as the ecosystem. Everyone in the ecosystem is telling tragic and heart-breaking stories. Mental illnesses have struck our children and thus the need of bringing mental health into the classrooms.
“The COVID-19 pandemic brought a complex array of challenges which had mental health repercussions for everyone, including children and adolescents. Grief, fear, uncertainty, social isolation, increased screen time, and parental fatigue have negatively affected the mental health of children. In adolescents, hyperactivity, or fidgeting, sleeping, and eating disturbances, agitation, increased conflicts, physical complaints, delinquent behavior, and
poor concentration is seen. Further, the change in lifestyle, upbringing of kids, growth of technology, nuclear family, and lack of guidance from parents has led to a vacuum in children’s’ lives and that needs to be filled.
“Today’s world is fast-moving, and our children are living in an era where human emotions are shared over the touch of a mobile phone. Here, new age problems – like cyber bulling, grooming, addiction, online child sexual abuse are on rise. Substance abuse has also gripped our children in school with various illegal substances being widely used or abused by school students. Electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) use is on its way to rise to epidemic levels among high school and middle school students. Those abusing substances experience numerous social, economic, physical, and legal consequences. Protection of children is severally compromised with state witnessing several sexual abuse cases, delayed reporting of sexual abuse cases, teenage pregnancies reported at advanced stages pointing out a frightened environment in schools.
“Children with disabilities are ignored in the school ecosystem with no psychosocial support and with no organized system to recognize early disabilities and severity level along with comorbid disorders if any. Our school systems are also not able to handle deviant behaviors of the students with many
resorting to harsher punishment, clearly conflicting the principles of juvenile justice.
“Teachers arguably spend the most time with their students and may be able to spot early signs of mental health concerns, but they too need assistance when such issues are identified. If all these mental health needs are unmet, it can pose serious barriers to social and educational development. Thus, students, who are at the peak of vulnerability at this age, need a neutral and non-judgmental person in the person of a counsellor, who not only understands their feelings, but also helps them in ventilation of feelings and emotions.
“Schools are the logical point of entry to increase the efficacy of mental health services to children and adolescents. While the Commission appreciate the efforts of the government of deployment of close to 77 counsellors and 19 supervisors through Goa Educational Development Corporation, however, the measure appears to fall short of a comprehensive resolution to the crisis at hand. It is still an under-investment in mental health and has led to serious gaps in prevention and care for children and adolescents.
“Consistently low funding for mental health over the decade has led to a weakened public mental health system in schools, increasing the treatment gap for mental health conditions. The Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 was enacted to protect, promote, and fulfil the rights of every citizen, including children to access affordable, acceptable, equitable and quality mental healthcare. The legislation places upon your government the obligation to ensure sufficient funds are allocated for ensuring mental health services are made available in adequate quantity to meet the needs of the population.
“Mr. Chief Minister, wellbeing of our children is critical to the future of society and state. To create a progressive and developed state and nation, we must begin with our children, as they are the beacons of hope for families as well as our entire state and country. Today, even a cursory look at their state is enough to tell us that we are failing miserably on this front.
“TIME IS NOW to consider long-term investments in states’ and school systems’ mental health workforces and infrastructures. Mental health is directly linked to educational outcomes. Educational institutions can enhance the nature and scope of mental health interventions, fill gaps, enhance effectiveness, address problems early, and reduce stigma.
“It’s the earnest request of the Commission to make counsellors, a vital part of the educational team, where children have adequate access to school counselor in every school. Counsellors with their unique qualifications can provide education, intervention, and referral services to children and even to parents and teachers.
“Mr. Chief Minister, our children in Goa need and deserve best mental health care. In fact, all of us do. The Commission call on you to create a dedicated and permanent funding stream in the next budget, for delivering mental health interventions for our students through one counsellor for each school.
“While I am aware of the magnitude of the task, a sustainable government response to this request is what the Commission desires. I look forward to continuing our constructive dialogue on this and other topics.”