March 17, 2023
“I am an orphan in my own motherland”. Lamented Maulana Abdul Kalam Azard the first education minister of independent India. Do these words fit into the current trend we see in our institutions of higher learning? If we look into newspapers among other depressing news items one sees the growing trend of suicides among teenagers and young persons. A large number of them come from premier Institutions and Universities.
Every one of us have low periods of time in our lives. No individual is exempted from this. What makes the difference is how frequent a person is low and how severe is that low mood.
In my almost 3 decades of career as a teacher, I had the opportunity of being with bright young minds, promising intellectuals, the future of our country. Having the opportunity of knowing them form close quarters, I have come to realise how these bright and talented youngsters struggle with low mood swings and never tell anyone – their family, teachers, and friends. The other significant persons in their lives would never know how they feel or will do. These youngsters in the initial stage put on a mask and try to focus on being what we call “normal self”. People around them would probably never know how they feel, and what went wrong in their lives.
One of the issues that we see is that they compare themselves with others who according to them have everything. They according to them smiling and apparently full of happiness. These individuals look at these low moods as purely their own fault or their own fate is dragging them down. As they believe that it is their own fault, they believe in hiding it from the outside world. They go about making it appear that everything is just fine, yet all the time feeling a big emptiness within them. They suffer in silence. This feeling of helplessness and problem is of their own making gets them into a spirit of low mood swings, anxiety and depression.
A mood is influenced and affected by the environment both internal as well as external. When a young person experiences a low mood, it may be influenced by several factors from both internal and external worlds. When we understand those influences, we can help them as teachers to shift it in the direction that would be helpful. In other words, we have the power to influence, help them in channelizing emotions and negative moods to reduce their impact.
It means that we as individuals and members of a formal group (in this case an institution or department of an University) start to work on our own wellbeing and take our emotional health in our own hands, the seed of success is firmly planted. We need to understand that our moods are not fixed, It does not define what we are, it is our feeling that we experience and we do have the power to eradicate low moods and see to it that it does not lead to depression and in its extreme form make an individual suicidal.
How can a Teacher Really Help?
Before we answer this question, let us look at the work that a teacher in Universities and Institutions of Higher learning do or are expected to do. It is true that they engage in teaching, research, take up projects, guide research scholars and the like. The question we need to ask is – Do they as a part of their work look at the wellbeing of their students and scholars? Even if some teachers take up the responsibility and work towards the wellbeing of their students and scholars, is there institutional support?
Many Universities and Institutions now take in “counsellors” to provide the much needed emotional support system. Do these “counsellors” function at the grass root level? Do they interact with students as that significant person in their academic career? Do they have the qualification and skills needed for their jobs? Are they ivory tower employees who dictate to parents and teachers what they ought to do? Do they take responsibilities for any negative trend that we see in our students? Can they really help?
It is here that the practical realities have to be taken into account. Life will always present us with hardship, loss and pain. We need to build a support system that will provide us with a tool box to help us. When life takes us through problems that makes us have low moods, anxiety and depression. We need to turn to those persons who are the significant people in the life of our students. They could help them, understand them, detect if anything is wrong and help them go through life facings fluctuations in moods – bog and small.
When a student experiences issues, there must be a known hand who could support and help before things go for the worse. The teacher is the first person and the best person who can effectively do it. Just as in the case of first aid, the teacher can provide that much needed succour.
The feeling of mood swings, depression, anxiety and the like is a part of life. It depends on our relationship – in our family, our institutions etc. The support system in our institutions provide us with living conditions and a healthy life style. It is a students and young person’s everything. It is their does, don’ts, thoughts, memories and their coping mechanism. Putting all these together, we feel a mood or an emotion that we are not alone in our problems. The support system and the meaning we give out emotions and moods. These are the ingredients that go into our lives and situations and will determine what the outcomes is.
Watching out for that Student in need
It is here that the role of a teacher needs to be explored. Low moods of a person gives them the urge to do things that we can make their moods and emotions and anxiety even worse. This scenario make the effected student numb or distract themselves, they go into a shell, do not respond or are craving for attention that they do not get.
What do they do when the support system is lacking or a remote possibility of seeking help from someone who they do not interact on a day to day basis? They go after instant solutions or relief that usually result in the use of alcohol, smoking, drugs, social media like gaming etc., which give them temporary relief and do permanent damage,
A teacher besides teaching has to be attentive and vigilant to the needs of their students. A teacher has to find means of managing low moods, reflecting on the means of responding to the feelings of their students, have compassion, take such students into confidence, and make an honest attempt to work on a long term plan and not fast tract issues.
To start with, a teacher must respond in a way the student wants, and not what they want. A teacher needs to have a fair reflection on the real condition of a student to be of any use to them. It is then that we can see and feel the low mood or anxiety and help them to take the next step to reduce or eliminate the problem. But is not invincible.
A teacher need to experience and be emphatic to the emotions and moods, physical sensation, memories that trigger the issue all together and get the whole picture. Stop checking the details and process the solution with a lot of practical insight.
A teacher needs to understand that emotions, mood swings etc tend to drive a person to lower and lower levels. Take time to think about the issue in different angles and in the whole process be supportive. A teacher must build up the ability to tolerate. The choice must be that of the student in need. The problem must be addressed from the point of view of the student. The choice of the teacher becomes a more conscious yardstick and a path of bringing the person out of the situation he or she is in. A teacher has the responsibility to open up the window of opportunity which can reduce the intensity of the negative situation. It takes a lot of understanding but is not invincible. Help in supporting our students would be looked at from their angle, let them know and understand that in times of emptiness within, they have the whole hearted support of the people like their teachers who are there for them, will be with them and will understand them without making an opinion of them. This is the emotional support system that every teacher needs to provide. It is the corner stone of a wholesome and meaningful education system.