36th Rajagiri Round Table Conference
We live in conflicted times. So do our young, who are doubly so,
fraught as they are deep within. The mental and psychological challenges the
young in our schools and colleges face are often underreported or even
underestimated and are often, unwittingly, regarded as nothing particularly to
There is denial on all sides of the issue. The nature and quality of communication between parents and children, teachers and children, and, of course, between parents and teachers forms part of the systemic and organic crisis. No to mention the intensely competitive do or die situations that parents, teachers, and institutions create around our young.
Some semblance of psychological stability and equanimity is of the essence among our young, who represent the shape and future of the world we inhabit. So, what is the Way Forward?
This, among a host of interrelated ideas, constituted the central topic of the 36th Rajagiri Round Table Conference held at the Board Room, Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology, Rajagiri.
Dr. Sanju George, Senior Consultant in Psychiatry, Rajagiri Hospital, and Member & Fellow, Royal College of Psychiatrists UK: Most of us need psychological help. However, there is a certain stigma attached to the ‘problem’ and, consequently, seeking a redress isn’t easy. Raising our awareness about what is viewed as ‘mental illness’ holds the key to overcoming this stigma. This can lead to the creation of a conducive space for dialogue. A patronising relationship can go against the grain of any form of dialogue. Comparisons and a sensationalist view of mental illness can also be negative. Psychiatry may not be an absolute science, but it does have solutions.
Vivin Abraham, Consultant Paediatrician, Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi: Technology has advanced, but some things have essentially not changed. Today, there has been a breakdown of not only our value systems but also of the family structure. Do parents have a role to play? In fact, parenting has become a stressful job. The role of the mother, for example, has changed from nurturer to breadwinner. In an earlier generation, there would typically be several children, up to a dozen, in some instances, in some families. Today, it is capped at two, resulting in excessive anxiety and possessiveness. Children, on the other hand, are also not trained to face failures. Owing to increasing nuclearisation, tolerance and teamwork do not come naturally to our children.
Anupama V. Prabhu, Psychologist, Mehac Foundation, Kochi: Parents’ messaging holds the key to several issues that children face today. Children imbibe character and balance from their parents. So, what sort of messaging parents practise today? Children look for role models, but do they find one that they can model themselves upon? Today, there are increasing instances of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It isn’t surprising that we are all dissociated, given the lifestyles we lead. What makes matters worse is that there isn’t a (positive) feedback loop. Besides, there is hardly any room for expression of emotion.
Rema K. Nair, Teacher, Vidyodaya School, Kochi: As teachers we ourselves create unhealthy amounts of stress in our students. Questions and expressions, such as “Aren’t you worried about your exams…”, are enough to create an atmosphere of fear psychosis which does not do any good to our children. Our young should be trained to face failures and view failure as merely the other side of the same coin. As teachers, we need to be more of a mentor rather than being an authority figure dealing in fear and duress.
K. Kumar, Chairman, Innominds Academy: What we are witnessing is a colossal generational change in parenting and family structures. In the change that is sweeping over the times that we inhabit, children have found themselves unable to adapt. It isn’t easy either. On the other hand, children need greater social and cultural exposure in order to be able to be adaptable. This lack of adaptability had significantly contributed to psychological disequilibrium among the young. Schools have a great role to play in ensuring our children grow up into well-balanced individuals.
Seema Sreenivas, Teacher, Sahyadri School, Pune: The life of a student isn’t easy today. The moment a child’s achievements are quantified, pressures, expectations, and competition put the child through extraordinarily unhealthy psychological pressure. This leads to unhealthy and unwarranted comparisons. Comparison kills a child’s soul, filling him with feelings of inadequacy, which can only lead to deep psychological issues.
Prof. Dr. P. R. Poduval, Former Professor & Director, School of Management Studies, CUSAT: If the older generation is not sound, how should we expect our young to be sound? That said, anxieties, failures, and worries may be problems. But are they problems in the manner we understand a problem? The question to be asked is, are they functional or dysfunctional? That is the key to understanding mental health. For that we need to first define ‘mental health’ in terms of what it is and not what it is not. Statistics in absolute numbers, with reference to mental health, need not be sound, for absolute numbers constitute prejudice.
Prof. Dr. Job Kuruvilla, Educationist & Epistemologist: All of us have mental issues, only the degree varies. It is also often like an iceberg — 90 percent is concealed and only 10 percent is exposed. However, we have a pathological approach to problems. Similar is our approach to mental problems. For example, a psychiatrist prescribes a pill for a particular condition. What we need is a preventive approach, not a prescriptive approach. We need to identify our strengths and build upon them. The human brain is live-wired and not hardwired, and that is evolutionary psychology. Mental conflict is often useful and good.
K.L. Mohana Varma, Writer & Commentator: Parents and teachers would be well-advised to let children ‘be’. Quality time spent with children will stand them in good stead. Most importantly, they should also be honest and transparent with them, and never ‘lie’ to them. The onus lies squarely on parents and teachers who can make or break a child’s destiny.
Vinnie Mathew, Electronics & Communications Student, RSET: I think among the most important characteristics the young need to develop are three-fold. We need to forge a high degree of self dependence, a conscious focus on the positive, rather than the negative, and the ability to adapt to situations. In fact, adaptability is key.
Peter M. John, Civil Engineering Student, RSET: In any discussion on the question of mental health, it is important to foreground the essentiality of the relationship between parents and children and teachers and children. Those equations reflect the very existential necessity of building fraternal relationships in order to foster a more evenly balanced emotional environment.
Jinsha JB, Applied Electronics Student, RSET: The relationship between parents and children are as much layered as it is troubled. Managing that relationship holds the key to better mental health. In fact, the relationship between the two needs to be transcendental.
Alvin Chris Antony, Computer Science Student, RSET: A lot of our issues, especially those related to mental health, are rooted in culture. The question of culture is central to the whole matrix of mental health and its numerous manifestations that we today find among our young.
Hema Keerthana, Applied Electronics Student, RSET: The relationship between students and teachers is critical here. The degree of closeness or the lack of it often determines the trajectory of the students’ well-being, confidence, and performance. To that extent, teachers have a great role to play in the psychological make-up of a student.
Akhil Menon, Indywoods, Kochi: That conflict between parental expectations and a child’s aspirations seems to be eternal. In fact, it is this burden of expectation and a sort of transference of parental dreams on to their children that often kills the child’s spirit and creativity. I wanted to sing, but my parents wanted me to pursue engineering. It’s another matter that I eventually did manage to land up in a creative field.
Shreyaan Sreenivas, Student,Sahyadri School, Pune: I need to hug my father at the end of day, come what may. And I do. But my father barely ever finds the time to be home. He is constantly stressed on account of work and I do not like it. I need to spend time with my father.