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First aid for the mind

Every year, 10th October is observed as World Mental Health Day, to create awareness about issues related to mental health. Depression is one of the least-addressed mental health issues in today’s society. It is prevalent across various age-groups and can be triggered by numerous factors. While adults commonly face depression due to stress from work or personal life, their depression could also be the result of bottled-up stress since childhood or teenage.

The present generation of adults has been brought up in an entirely different environment when compared to the present generation of children and teenagers. The nature of our childhood and our extent of exposure to the world was very limited. Though this may at times be a disadvantage to us today, it certainly acted as our shield against stress and worries when we were younger. Thus, drawing from our childhood memories, we as adults often tend to think that childhood is a happy stage of life, and that children are not vulnerable to stress. We could not be more wrong.

Today’s children are born into a world of high exposure, expectations, competition, comparison and pressure. Parents may create the healthiest environment for their children at home, but inevitably, social life throws all these elements at the children. Away from home, children are exposed to many realities such as troublesome friends, unfair classmates, discrimination, bullying, failure and so on. Even in the safety of the home, teenagers are prone to stress in the event of social media evils like stalking and harassment. Some children and teenagers are also faced with heavy pressure from their parents to score high marks and be all-rounders. While some individuals recover from these incidents, a lot of children and teenagers alike, struggle to deal with the stress they create. While children often do not understand what they are feeling, teenagers tend to be confused about their feelings.

In such times, it is the responsibility of parents, teachers and other adults to look out for signs of distress in them. Common symptoms could range from one extreme to the other, and often depend on the individual. Some individuals may throw tantrums and indulge in attention-seeking behaviour, while some may isolate themselves from people. The latter could even aggravate to incidents where children and teenagers make excuses to miss school or college.

When faced with such situations, we adults must realise that the best thing to do is to offer the individual a shoulder to cry on (yes, boys must be taught that it is okay to cry as well). He/she needs a vent. The individual needs mental first-aid.

So what does mental first-aid consist of? Well, all it takes is to have a friendly talk with the stressed person. Just like physical first aid is most effective when the wound is fresh, mental first-aid is best done as soon as the symptoms of distress are discovered. Once the person sees a friend in us, he/she will express his/her feelings more openly. The reasons for distress could be anything—low self-esteem, anxiety about exams, disappointment with academic performance, health issues, distance from a close friend, learning disabilities, missing a tournament or school trip due to a fractured arm, teenage infatuation and so on. Once individuals have experienced the relief that comes from talking to a person, they will volunteer to voice their feelings the next time they are stressed.

Today’s depressed adults often lack a vent for their worries, or are unaware of how venting their frustration would help combat stress. Thus, practicing mental first-aid from childhood teaches youngsters to voice their worries. It makes them more aware of what they are feeling, and shows them how to deal with their feelings. In turn, we can create a future generation of adults, which is much more mentally healthy.


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