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August 11, 2020 Tuesday 10:17:50 AM IST

Celebrate Others' Success

Health Monitor

The Harvard Human Development Study which was initiated in Harvard University in 1938 is a pathbreaking one which has brought to light the relevance of human relationships in physical and mental health including longevity.  The study examined meticulously the lives of students from childhood, adolescence, their relationship with parents, siblings, friends in school etc. The students were followed up during their course at Harvard and once they had graduated all the details including the age at which they gained employment, their annual income, the age at which they contracted major life style disorders and the age of death.

Now 82 years have passed and 30,000 people had taken part in the study and it has emerged as the largest study which has examined the factors behind human longevity. It has brought forth five important factors that help in longevity- Regular Exercise, Controlled Dietary Practices, Complete Avoidance of Tobacco products and smoking, alcoholism and the most important is maintaining good relationships. The study categorically proves that quality of human relationships developed during childhood and adolescence is the most significant factor which enhances longevity of human beings.

Philosophy of Life

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of suicides among children and adolescents not only in India but across the globe. When we examine the psycho social factors behind it we can see that the society has become highly competitive. It is instilled in the minds of children at a very young age.  Parents define success as getting top marks in an exam, top rank which makes them very competitive from a very young age.

Once they reach adolescence, they find that parents and elders define success in the form of material accomplishments including money, vehicles, large houses and other material accomplishments. They develop the idea that the purpose of life is to amass wealth. The biggest problem with this approach is that they become instantly depressed on seeing the success of others. If a neighbour has purchased a new vehicle, you become restless.

If you ask an adolescent what is the purpose of your life they might say-‘I want to study and get good marks, to do a professional course of his choice, do it well, pass out, get employment with a huge salary, go abroad, make a lot of money, buy a big house, purchase a large vehicle, amass lot of wealth and so on.’ Then if you ask what next, they have no answer. This is called the 'Philosophical Vacuum.' They don't have a clear purpose of life other than face competitiveness. What you want yourself to be known for after you exit from this world? What you want the next generation to remember you for? What should be regarded as the best contribution the world when you were alive? The answer to this question will be the philosophy of your life.  And the pathways you adopt to reach this philosophy will be the values of your life. If a person wants to be remembered as someone who did the maximum to benefit to people during his existence on Earth, his philosophy is crystal clear. And during each moment of his life he would try consciously to be of use to others. Gradually, the fact that he is of benefit to others would be his reward.It is not the words of gratitude or expression of gratitude from others which become their reward, it is the fact that you are capable physically, mentally and spiritually to help others. The fact that you are able to help others and benefit others, that would be your reward. And that shapes up the philosophy of a person's life. Failures such as in an exam or financial setbacks, job loss or break up of relationships will not affect you beyond a certain extent because you are able to see a larger purpose in life. Such setbacks are not permanent and you are not distracted by them.

During adolescence (ages 10 to 19) parents should take care to ensure that children don't become envious or jealous of others and help them celebrate the achievements of others, find happiness in it and that would help them evolve as better social animals rather than cringe under pressure.

Loneliness and Aloneness

Loneliness is aloneness misunderstood. Loneliness is the situation in which people around you move away from you while aloneness means you move away from people. Most of our children and adolescents face the issue of aloneness. They refuse to connect with people who are ready to help them. They move away from their parents, their siblings, peers, become isolated, their life gets restricted to virtual, electronic platforms created by the internet. They think that is the world for them. They alienate themselves from what is happening around them. The society which is willing to help them. This phenomenon is called as 'social disconnection syndrome'.  This happens because our children indulge in cartoons from a very young age, later stage addicted to online games and later to social media pornography. They are completely cut off from the realities of life and exist in a virtual world. It becomes the be all and the end all of life. They become alone and they misunderstand their aloneness for loneliness.

Celebrating Success

A student who gets first rank in school gets appreciated and celebrated. Likewise, someone who wins trophies in sports, arts or any other competitions is celebrated. But a genuine act of kindness on the part of a child is not celebrated. Imagine a student who reaches school late by 10 minutes. When the teacher questions him, he talks about a handicapped person who finds it difficult to cross the road. And he helped him and hence the delay. What would be the spontaneous response of the teacher or a parent?  "Why did you waste your time in doing unnecessary things that are of no benefit to you?” This affects children as they consider an act of kindness as a waste. We should start celebrating them. It should be recognised, rewarded, appreciated, publicised and that will give confidence to children. They will come to understand that such acts are also rewarded by society.  It may be more important than winning trophies or becoming topper in academics. This develops social and emotional intelligence. Such training should be given at home also.

Life Skills

Students have to be trained in life skills. It has been defined by World Health Organisation as a group of adaptive abilities which every adolescent should imbibe, inculcate and put into practice to face new and difficult situations. They are self-awareness, communication skills, interpersonal relationships, decision-making skills, problem solving skills, critical thinking, creative thinking, coping with emotions, stress and empathy. They have to be trained in a participatory, process oriented and experiential manner. It should not be a guest lecture by an expert. It should be activity- based training. Such a life skills module was prepared by State Council for Educational Research and Training (SCERT) called Ullasaparavakal (Delightful Birds) in Kerala. There are separate modules for Standard I to Standard XII. Every year 20 hours of activity-based training is given. It has been implemented in 100 schools in the last couple of years with excellent results. Positive change was noted in attitudes, behaviour and learning of the students. Substance abuse and suicides came down. The prevalence of interpersonal conflicts among peers and in families came down. This led to improvement in academic performance.

Psychological First Aid

People around us may be suffering from stress. It may be your sibling, a neighbour or classmate. How to help them before they are given professional help? First approach the child who is psychological distress. They don’t open up to adults because they think they will not understand or trivialise their problems or make fun, criticise or scold or publicise the private information they shared. This prevents adolescents from seeking help from adults. We have to ask the child proactively what is troubling him. The second step is to listen patiently, empathetically to what he or she says without interrupting, without making fun. Third step is to give information in the form of scientific explanations. Misconceptions about sexuality, gadget use, studies can be addressed. Those who are still stressed need to get professional help or consult a psychiatrist. There are several stigmas related to mental health in our society. Parents lack mental health literacy and digital literacy.

Mental health literacy is a knowledge regarding the mind, mental health and illnesses. Problems in the functioning of the brain causes mental illnesses which should be communicated to the public at large. Most of the mental illness can be cured if treated early. Statistics shows 50% of the mental illnesses an adult face begin before the age of 14 and 75% of mental illness begin before 24 years age.  This shows the importance of identifying and intervening early. The parents, teachers and siblings have a responsibility in preventing suicidal tendencies among adults.



Dr Arun B Nair

Psychiatrist, Govt Medical College, Thiruvananthapuram Read more articles..