By Marli Naidoo
It is estimated that 20% of children and adolescents in South African suffer from mental disorders and that approximately half of all mental disorders start around the age of 14 years.
The risk of contracting mental-health problems is bigger in vulnerable environments with poor social support and socioeconomic inequalities, such as in developing countries. In a mental-health study done in five cities spread over the globe it was found that Johannesburg adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 years at levels of 44,6% and 67,0% respectively reported the highest levels of depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms. Suicide is still the second-highest cause of death among young people worldwide. General psychiatric disorders, inter alia anxiety, mood, trauma and stress-related disorders, all come with a heightened risk of suicide.
Teenagers spend long periods of time at school, where teachers tackle not only the task of educating them academically but also to bring about spiritual growth. Mentally healthy teenagers are more motivated and will more readily become active members of the class community.
One of the best ways for teachers to boost their learners’ mental health is by using mentalisation. This concept refers to a constant process of learning to understand what a person is going through. The teacher will spend time every day to think about what her learners are feeling and thinking. The children will begin to feel that somebody understands them. They will more readily take chances and ask questions. This will bring teachers and learners closer to each other.
Teachers can teach the learners to take care of themselves mentally and handle stressful situations. Talk to them about the benefits of meditation, of talking to reliable friends when things are getting too much, how to recognise and control their own triggers, etc.
In order to promote mental health, it is important for the teacher to take care of herself. A good example will always have the best influence.
Teach learners to show emotion and let them feel that they are safe and are heard. Teachers can take courses or learn through self-study what the signs of depression and other conditions in teenagers are. When a learner says that something like abuse happened to him, you must believe him and investigate further to find out what is really going on.
It is important to know when it is time to get help. If you are concerned about the safety and mental health of the learner and see no improvement, you should do something about it as soon as possible, talk to the parents and help to get the necessary help.