International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, or World Drug Day, is marked on June 26 every year with a view to strengthen action and bolster mutual cooperation at international level in achieving a world free of substance abuse.
This year’s theme chosen for the day is “Addressing drug challenges in health and humanitarian crises”. This includes global health crisis like COVID-19 and humanitarian crisis like mass exodus of refugees in war-torn situations like those witnessed in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
Social, economic, physical, emotional and mental stress produced by these crises push the populations in general and youth in particular towards uncertainty, insecurity, instability and fallibility.
As a result, some of the budding youth studying in schools and colleges often tend to make mistakes and wrong decisions in absence of proper guidance and hand-holding.
Under peer group pressure or lack of awareness they sometimes try to seek refuge in drugs and other substances of abuse and end up becoming addicts.
This underlines the need to have psychological counsellors at all educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities who can patiently listen to the youngsters, try to understand their mental health needs, offer them coping strategies for overcoming stress and other deviations from normal behaviour through psychological counselling.
According to estimates and alerts put forth by the World Health Organisation (WHO), “Worldwide one in seven children aged between 10 to 19 years experience a mental disorder, accounting for 13% of the global burden of disease in this age group. Depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.
Adolescents with mental health conditions are particularly vulnerable to social exclusion, discrimination, stigma that in turn affects their readiness to seek help, educational difficulties, risk-taking behaviours, physical and mental ill-health. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide among 15-19 year-old children.
Therefore, the consequences of failing to address adolescent mental health conditions can extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting their opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.
Physical, emotional and social changes, including exposure to poverty, abuse, or violence, can make adolescents vulnerable to mental health problems.
Protecting adolescents from adversity, promoting socio-emotional learning and psychological well-being, and ensuring access to mental health care are critical for their health and well-being during adolescence and adulthood.”
In this regard psychological counsellors at pre-primary school level can identify and help children suffering from disorders like schizophrenia, anxiety and panic disorders, phobias, mood disorders like bipolar disorder, eating disorder, autism, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders or learning disabilities.
Since parents are not medically trained to notice the symptoms and diagnose these disorders, barring a few of them who are psychiatrists by profession, they often fail to identify these disorders and get timely medical intervention for the same, often leading to increasing severity and progressive complications with advancing age.
Availability of a psychological counsellor at school can ensure constant observation of kids through their class teachers leading to timely diagnosis and early treatment of psychological disorders besides better outcomes of education.
High school level marks the beginning of adolescence, a tumultuous and transformative phase in the lives of children. This is the time when they begin to have their own likes, dislikes, outlooks and perceptions about issues, people, ideologies and surroundings, develop their own perspectives and desire to take their own decisions.
At this stage it becomes important to channelise their curiosity, enthusiasm and energy towards the right direction through proper guidance and mentoring, in absence of which they may seek recourse in drugs, substances of abuse, bad company, illegal activities and sometimes even fall prey to anti-social elements without realising its ill effects on their career and future life.
Furthermore, the parental pressure to perform well in the examinations, secure a high percentage of marks, steer through cut-throat competitions and secure admissions in a reputed college or university are the prime concerns that they face.
To make things worse, traditions of unfair comparisons and unhealthy competitions in the society besides undue expectations of parents put additional burdens on their feeble shoulders.
Parents often fail to appreciate the unique personalities and hidden talents of their children and often force them to be a part of the rat race for medical and engineering admissions. All this often leads to immense pressure, frustration, anxiety and depression among the children.
Under such circumstances a caring and empathetic psychological counsellor back at school can serve as a pro-social adult for such students who feel frustrated, helpless and rebellious and can adjust their behaviours, help them identify troubling emotions and thoughts besides teaching them develop coping mechanisms and counter strategies for the same using psychotherapy or talk therapy.
Psychological counsellors can also counsel the parents of such children, rationalise, balance and align their behaviour and expectations in the right direction, thus helping the students get relieved from their unbearable burdens of unrealistic expectations.
At college level, students feel quite exuberant with enthusiasm and energy. This is an enthralling and exhilarating phase that marks a new turn in the life of a student towards his future.
Experience of the new place, new people, new classmates, new environment and a new life can sometimes be difficult for a few to handle particularly those with a shy and introvert kind of personality.
New ambience could throw new challenges of social behaviour, networking, intermingling and forming new friendships and relations besides issues related to self-esteem for some students that in turn could cause stress, social anxiety, depression, abnormal behaviour and unusual thoughts. Under such circumstances having a psychological counsellor could be a very helpful source of support for such students where they can get counselling regarding their career, courses, relationships, adapting to the new atmosphere and in tackling personal emotional and mental health issues.
Such kind of psychological counselling could boost their morale and improve their performance in their chosen stream and help them overcome their inhibitions, constraints and limitations in their participation in extra-curricular activities like sports, music, fine arts, winter and summer camps, hiking, mountaineering, nature exploration etc.
They can be counselled about social anxiety issues, substance abuse and day-to-day stress. Appropriate professional help could help them receive suitable medical and non-medical interventions wherever needed and thereby shine in their career without falling prey to anti-social and immoral activities. This way they will be well-equipped to handle such challenges and be mentally strong to face them upfront.
As per WHO, on an average 34 students committed suicide every day worldwide during the year 2020 as a result of examination pressure, competition, relationship issues etc.
Therefore, it becomes very important to provide necessary psychological support to students at their educational institutions where psychological counsellors can help them cope up with the pulls and pressures and guide them in improving and maintaining their mental health.
COVID-19 pandemic drastically affected the physical activity and mental health of young adults as their schools and colleges remained shut for a prolonged period as a result of which many students felt isolated, unattended and disconnected with their friends and relatives that in turn caused an even more adverse impact on their mental health.
Now after reopening of schools and colleges, students need help to adapt to the new normal lest they will exhibit abnormal behaviours.
Clinical psychologists can detect any deviant behaviours, learning disabilities and similar issues. Subsequently they can collaborate with their parents and teachers to devise coping strategies that can help such students overcome their stress. Psychological counsellors can guide students in improving their emotional intelligence.
They can also teach them important life and work skills like communication skills, interpersonal socializing skills, time management skills, goal-setting skills etc., that will help the students in maintaining balance and achieving academic success.
World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended a school mental health program (SMHP) for the well-being of school children. Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has also made it mandatory to have counsellors in CBSE schools.
Though over past few years many educational institutions have hired mental health professionals to support their students, still many schools and colleges seem to be jittery and reluctant to have mental health professionals on their campuses and are ending up providing only mental health and drug de-addiction awareness programs to their students.
No doubt educational institutions will have to pay handsome salaries while hiring psychological counsellors, yet it will be really worth owing to the huge benefits and returns that they bring to the institute and its students.
Therefore, all educational institutions must have psychological counsellors to support students in managing their mental health and staying away from drugs and other substances of abuse.
At the same time policy framed by the govt. of J&K for drug de-addiction and rehabilitation needs to be implemented in letter and spirit.
Prof. Geer Mohammad Ishaq teaches at the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK