The stories in children’s notebooks

For a school guidance counsellor, it's the last pages of the notebooks that matter.

A girl and a boy student in masks with their notebooks
UNICEF Bhutan/2021/TWangchuk
08 November 2021

Trashigang: Being a teacher and later a school guidance counsellor for almost a decade now, Sangay Tenzin K observes that some of the most common causes of mental ill health among children are associated with their home environment - divorce, extra marital affairs, and or re-marriage of their parents.  

One of the first 11 national counsellors, Sangay is a counsellor at Jampeling Central School in Trashigang, which has about 600 students from grades VII to XII. Each grade has a counselling class every week where he conducts sessions on career and personal development and prevention of substance abuse among others.

Outside the class, Sangay counsels students from all grades either in groups or individually. Most students, however, prefer one-on-one counselling.

Sangay notes that when the environment at home is not conducive for a child, they, especially girl students, become more vulnerable to exploitation. “Other causes are peer pressure, relationship issues, mobile phone addiction, alcoholic parents, and lack of parental guidance for those whose parents are away including those living and working abroad,” he says.

“Children use the back pages of their notebooks to express their feelings, concerns, issues, difficult times and pen suicide notes”

While substance abuse is more common among boys who seek counselling, girls, Sangay says, are involved in self-harm activities mainly due to relationship issues and abuse. Younger children, he said have concerns about bullying, teasing, fighting, game addiction, truancy, and lack of care by family. “Older children have issues about subject choice, studies and opportunities after high school.”

Although he provides counselling to several students, Sangay says that there are still many children who might need counselling but are hesitant to seek help. “We recently had two girls who attempted self-harm come for counselling and through them I found six more who had also attempted self-harm.”

Besides observing their body language, one of the best ways to understand children is through their notebooks, he says. “Children use the back pages of their notebooks to express their feelings, concerns, issues, difficult times and pen suicide notes,” he says. “I still have a note of a child found at the back page of his notebook after he had died by suicide. Unfortunately, he had not reached out for any sort of counselling.”

A man in glasses in conversation with a girl
Sangay Tenzin K
School guidance counsellor Sangay Tenzin K attends to a client.

These days, he gets about two or three clients but there are times when he attends to abut eight clients including students and school staff. Sangay meets his clients in person and follow up on them with calls after the cases are closed. However, following up after the children graduate or drop out of school is not possible unless they visit him.

But Sangay continues to encourage students to open up and not shy away from asking for help. He also conducts screening activities in classes to identify mental health issues among the students.

“Children of junior grades are more open when it comes to sharing their problems and coming forward to seek help, while those in higher grades are more hesitant. Some come to me and do not say a word,” he says. “But we continue to encourage them to talk about their concerns, that we are here to listen to them.”

By Sonam Yangchen, UNICEF Bhutan

Cover photo used for illustration purpose only.

If you or someone you know is not feeling okay, talking to someone you trust helps.

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Call 17861294; 17609443; 17751625; 77258332 or contact the Sherig Counselling Facebook page