Spend time with yourself, restrict screen time
One of the biggest challenges of the pandemic has been the effect of reduced mobility and online education on the mental health of students, parents and teachers. This was in focus at the concluding session of the 4th Annual Education Conclave held virtually by the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in collaboration with ABP Education.
Rima Mukherjee, senior consultant psychiatrist, and Anuttama Banerjee, consultant psychologist, academic mentor and columnist, spoke on Prioritising Mental Health. The session was moderated by Debanjan Chakrabarti, director, East and Northeast India, British Council.
Excerpts from the session:
Psychology? Psychiatry? What’s the difference?
Rima Mukherjee: Basically, psychology and psychiatry both fall under mental health professions. We both treat mental illnesses and also focus on mental well-being. But the mode of treatment is different. Being a psychiatrist, I treat largely through medication. Psychologists mainly talk and analyse — it is a form of talk therapy.
Anuttama Banerjee: Psychology is not only about talking. It entails a very scientific and clinical sort of talking which aims to understand and analyse the problems and create perspectives differently. We offer those perspectives to the other person who has come to us without being biased towards our own values.
Whom to approach?
Banerjee: Ideally, when we were studying psychology, we were told it is all right to first approach a psychologist. When we start talking to somebody, we start to understand that somebody is there to listen. The other person helps you liberate yourself from your pent-up emotions. A psychologist can refer the person to a psychiatrist. But we do not have this ideal environment. Now, I say approach whoever is available.
Effect on children
Mukherjee: Children are the ones who are most affected. When we become adults, our life is more or less the same. When we are children, we go to a new class, get new books, get a new teacher and sometimes make new friends. That kind of experience and excitement diminish when we come of age.
A lot of children have become completely disengaged from academics because the online mode of learning is difficult, especially for those with concentration problems or developmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
Online education also puts strain on the eyes and gives headaches to children. They are getting into various kinds of physical problems. There is a pent-up restlessness that is not being channelised properly.
Effect on young adults
Banerjee: Young adults miss going outside their homes because they do not have privacy in their home-bound situations. Also, at times, we cannot really blame the parents because they may not even have the functional logistical option. How many of us have separate rooms for ourselves?
I think they are emotionally alienated from their parents. The friction has increased. Differences were there but they had respite — they used to go to school; they used to go outside; they could handle conflict by actually using the distance. Now that the same distance is not there, it has created an impact on the mental health of these students. There is a sense of pointlessness creeping in about academics because though we are involved in a very assessment-based academic structure, children know their learning is incomplete. This whole uncertainty is making them feel absolutely pointless about their academics, which is worrisome.
Impact of technology immersion
Mukherjee: Children who have been yearning to get mobiles have suddenly been given access to mobile and the internet. So, most children are playing mobile games instead of studying. They are on the phone for a lengthy period of time and some of them are getting very aggressive. Children are being given gadgets, especially in those families where parents are not tech savvy. Parents can’t monitor which sites these children are getting into. So cyber-bullying, cyber pornography and all kinds of cyber-criminal activities are happening.
Breakdown of face-to-face communication
Banerjee: We have already moved to an era of digital media. Moderation is the answer. We have to upgrade ourselves. We have to learn their [children and young adults] language, only then we will be able to conclude how much is too much and how much is not too much. Teachers are highly challenged in the environment as they don’t know if the students are actually attending [classes] or those are just names popped up on the screen. So, call their names and involve them in an answer.
Mukherjee: Establish a routine, especially with young kids. Bring their body clock and sleep cycle to what it was during pre-pandemic time. Everybody, even a young child, should be told to go and spend some time on their own outside this online world.
How to increase mental fitness?
Banerjee: We need to be guiltless about ‘me time’. We need to tell ourselves it's alright to let our hair down. Be authentic. Be genuine! This is the core theme.
“Two events that, I think, really shook the world involve two brilliant sportspersons, Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, who recently confessed their own struggles with mental health. I think the world really woke up to this issue when iconic figures such as them, who are eminently successful and wealthy, confessed to the stress and strains of being at the top of their professions,” said Chakrabarti.
The session was followed by a formal vote of thanks from the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
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