Worldwide more than 200 million children and teenagers struggle with some form of mental health issue. Combined with the ongoing effects of environmental pressures and the meteoric rise of social media usage, the mental wellbeing of our children is in the spotlight like never before.
Now, with end-of-year exams rolling around, the stress on teenagers is even more intense, says Shaun Fuchs, founder and CEO of Centennial Schools. He stresses that paying attention to mental health issues is critical to a child’s success in school and life, and that everything should be done to equip and assist young people to deal with their mental health.
“Research has shown that one in five children and teenagers experience a mental health problem during their school years. These include stress, anxiety, bullying, family problems and depression.”
“It is important that we address these issues with our young people, particularly in South Africa where the stresses are so much higher. Schools are prime spaces where we can help our children,” he says.
He adds that success isn’t only based academics, it is also about creating an ecosystem at school to help fragile children to cope with their mental health issues in order to succeed.
Centennial Schools has a wellness app, called It’sOk, to help students, teachers and parents navigate and deal with any mental health, Fuchs says.
“Our students are exceptionally digitally literate. It’sOk makes sense for them, creates a safe space, and enables our students to increase their emotional intelligence and mental well-being daily. It also provides teachers and parents with accurate data on how our children are doing so that the school can intervene if there are concerns.”
“It is tough for students to admit their struggles. The app gives students a platform for self-expression and emotional education without them having to approach an adult,” Fuchs says.
Centennial Schools’ students shared personal insights on what they’ve learnt about their mental health issues and personal coping mechanisms ahead of exam season:
- Hanna, a Grade 8 student, says she has learnt that mental health issues are difficult to overcome, but leans on her support network of family and friends when she feels down or overwhelmed.
- Layla, a Grade 7 student explains that for many people it is not so easy to get over ‘it’, but there is always going to be someone to talk to.
- Gino, a Grade 9 student understands that if he prepares thoroughly before the exams, he is ready for them. He engages in activities like martial arts and games to calm himself down.
- CJ in Grade 10 shared that his best coping mechanism is music, it allows him space to think and breathe. He has also embraced going outside for a walk without books or electronics so that he can recap what he has learnt and calm himself down.
Fuchs says the effective management of mental health and wellbeing is an ongoing process and one that needs to be embedded into the culture of all schools. “And now, with year-end exams fast approaching, it is even more vital to provide mental health support for our children.”