Caring about our Mental Health in Schools
Let's Go Back to a Better School
The start of the school year has made us think about suggestions to improve our experience as we get back to classes. After considering a myriad of ideas, we realized that one of the biggest issues which is not dealt with enough in our schools is mental health support!
This has always been an important topic, but now is the right moment to focus on it, as we are all facing new challenges and we must work together to get through them. Our lives have changed from the onset of the pandemic. Not everyone is equally capable of tackling changes, and that, in many respects, may influence our mental health.
"Now more than ever, I need someone to talk to and to be frank with. I am happy to say that my friends have been here for me, but not everyone has such support and not everyone feels free to open up to friends," Erblin, 16.
The Importance of Expressing Emotions
Expressing one's emotions is important and helps us understand how we feel. Thus, we all find it important to have someone to talk to whenever we feel the need for it. For starters, we might find it helpful to chat with our friends, as it's easier to confide in them since they have been facing similar challenges. However, despite the fact that it feels good to share something with a friend, we still have to seek professional help in certain situations.
We spend most of our time in classes and it makes sense that schools are the place where we can say how we feel and share the issues we are facing. To have someone to lean on, somebody to listen to what we have to say and someone who will be available.
It would make a huge difference to us if our schools organized individual meetings with a psychologist once a week or twice a month. This would help normalize the conversations with professionals and would change the way school is perceived - not just a place where we learn and compete to get better grades. Every one of us may have an issue with a certain subject, some need more time to absorb the learning material, and teachers and parents need to understand this. The opportunity to talk to an expert, to a psychologist, would facilitate communicating with our teachers and parents, and it will also help make the school a place we are happy to go to.
Let's Go Back to a Better School
We'd really like to go back to school, but, at the same time, we would like to see some changes, changes that the young would find useful. It is already evident that nothing will be the same, so as we adjust to the new 'normal', lets adjust to be more effective.
Our suggestion to schools is to introduce a subject or a day dedicated to mental health. That would be time committed to activities such as hiking, watching movies, painting outdoors, short field trips, athletic tournaments, quizzes on student-selected topics and a plethora of other stuff. That would help us reinforce social interaction, hang out, be closer to nature and to ourselves. Apart from the relaxing activities, it will be useful to have debates and discussions on more sensitive topics, such as showing one's emotions, dealing with failure and success, education on reproductive health and other issues, and especially discussions for sharing our experiences during the pandemic. If we answer questions such as "What helped you during the pandemic?" or "What was the most challenging experience you had in this period?", it would make it easier for us to understand that we're dealing with these issues in isolation, that we are not the only ones feeling this way.
Also, the periods when we have tests on all subjects at the same time has a negative impact on the mental health of virtually all students. It would be better if the tests were spread apart, so instead of having all 20 tests in a week or two, to have two tests per week or to have continuous testing, and to mark the students on the basis of how dedicated and active they were throughout the year.
Aside from the ideas for better schools, we have a few ideas on how to stay productive as we keep learning. Here are a few that help us particularly when learning is online:
- Let's be creative! One activity may be drawing or splashing paint on an empty sheet of paper. It doesn't need to look good; the important thing is to release whatever emotions we have bottled up inside. We can also sculpt, play an instrument, write or do whatever else makes us happy.
- Meditation and walking in nature make us relaxed and helps us be present and focused on the here and now.
- By solving logic puzzles or reading books or articles we feel productive and fulfilled. Watching movies and following the Instagram feed day in and day out, can drain our brain and our capacity to concentrate slowly peters out.
Mental health is as important as education, and schools are the best place to help young people develop and maintain a healthy mind. Let’s create schools where students will not complain about how difficult lectures are or how busy testing schedules are, and rather schools where students feel confident to stand up and speak openly about mental health.
Written by UNICEF Youth Reporters:
Erblin Jakupi, 16