NEW DELHI: Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya said on Tuesday that teachers should be trained and oriented about mental health issues among children so that they are able to identify such problems early and refer them for treatment or counselling.
Launching the UNICEF's global flagship publication, 'The State of the World's Children 2021 - On My Mind: Promoting, Protecting and Caring for Children's Mental Health', the minister also laid stress on the inclusion of understanding of mental health among children in teacher training curriculum.
Stating that the biggest educational institute is family, Mandaviya said families should encourage their children to talk freely and have a dialogue with them to be able to address any emerging mental health issues early.
He said these days there is hardly any conversation between children and elders of the family.
"It is important that in families all the members sit together and parents must treat their children as friends and ensure a free dialogue takes place so that children are able to talk freely.
They should also observe closely the changes happening in their behaviour," he said.
Second, comes the role of teacher, the minister said underlining they have a critical role as what they say have major impact on children.
"Orientation and training classes should be organised for teachers and understanding mental health issues among children should be made part of their training curriculum.
Teachers should be adequately trained to identify subtle and not so subtle symptoms of emerging mental health issues among children and refer them to psychiatrists for treatment or counselling so that their problems can be addressed early," he said.
The mental health is intrinsically linked to physical health and wellness, the minister said as he expressed concern about 14 per cent of children in the world facing mental health issues.
"Fourteen per cent of children in the world are facing mental health issues, it's a serious problem and if we will not address it on time then it will have an adverse effect on society," he said.
The minister said he realised how important it is to talk about mental health during the second wave of COVID-19.
"When the second wave came, there was a problem of medicine, oxygen, (and) demands were coming from all quarters. All this used to give me mental stress too. At that time, I used to do cycling, yoga every morning, which used to give relief," he said.
UNICEF India representative Yasmin Ali Haque said children in India have been through a challenging time living through the risks and restrictions posed by the pandemic.
"Nothing could have prepared them for the onslaught of the second wave of the pandemic that hit India earlier this year," she said, adding that children witnessed suffering and uncertainties that no child should have to see.
Being away from family, friends, classrooms and play caused isolation and anxiety.
Children have not only been living an emotional tragedy, many are also at a higher risk of neglect and abuse.
"What we know about the mental health impact of the pandemic on children is just the tip of the iceberg. I am grateful to Minister Mansukh Mandaviya for joining us to spotlight the mental health of children, and for leading the national initiatives to address the issues highlighted in the UNICEF global report," she said.
Children in India seem reticent to seek support for mental stress, according to a survey conducted by UNICEF and Gallup in early 2021 among 20,000 children and adults in 21 countries.
Only 41 per cent of young people between 15-24 years of age in India said that it is good to get support for mental health problems, compared to an average of 83 per cent for 21 countries.
In fact, India was the only one of the 21 countries where only a minority of young people felt that people experiencing mental health issues should reach out to others.
In every other country, a majority of young people -- ranging from 56 to 95 per cent -- felt that reaching out was the best way to deal with mental health issues.
The survey findings, which are previewed in the UNICEF publication, also found that around 14 per cent of those between 15-24 years of age in India, or one in seven, reported often feeling depressed or having little interest in doing things.
The proportion ranged from almost one in three in Cameroon, one in seven in India and Bangladesh, to as low as one in ten in Ethiopia and Japan.
Across 21 countries, the median was one in five young people.