There has been disturbing news of students physically attacking their teachers and fellow students; not forgetting last months’ gruesome incident of a young man who butchered his almost his entire family, blaming it consuming mystery and murder series ‘killing eve’. In retaliation, Prof. George Magoha, the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Education has proposed the return of corporal punishments. The question however should be, will that be a good-enough solution to get our students disciplined or are there other root causes of students going on rampage that we should investigate as a society such as the impact of Covid-19 and their mental wellbeing? Are we just ignorant?
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into focus its effect on different populations including school going children, according to journal of medical internet research , the pandemic has created new stressors and mental health challenges including fear and worry for oneself or loved ones, constraints on social activities and physical movement due to quarantine, sudden and radical lifestyle changes, where in Kenya, for instance, schools were promptly closed. The closure of schools and other education institutions caused increase in teenage pregnancies, rise of gender-based violence and increase of drug and substance abuse among many school going students which was experienced nationally, and it was established that school was a safe space for many students which was an underrated issue.
As the government, NGO’s and other stakeholders are putting efforts to come up with effective solutions and policies to better the situation, we have forgotten one important effect of Covid-19 to school going students and the entire population at large; mental ill-ness. There is stigma around families losing their loved ones due to Covid-19, anxieties and fear of losing our vulnerable family members to the pandemic, but we often forget the psychological and emotional toll on school-going students. According to Elizabeth Kubler, a renowned psychologist on loose and grief, there are five stages of bereavement which include: anger, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance which due to lack of mental health awareness, school-going students are not accorded the chance to grieve. Hence, we get surprised when the suppressed feelings and emotions spill out and our children making them act out in bizarre manners since they have not been taught that it is okay not to be okay and that it is okay to grieve in whichever manner that they can since grief sits with everyone differently.
The ministry of education should work on holding capacity building forums for teachers in understanding mental health as a concept while bringing in its correlation with Covid-19 which will include understanding loss and grief and how to provide psychosocial support, this will be an important shift and change of dynamics since teachers would not forthright label their students as hardheaded but would consider understanding where they are coming from and offering the necessary support.
Secondly, the ministry of education should work together with the Ministry of Health to come up with policies that would make accessibility of mental health resources easy. Student based counselling centres should be made available while at the same time creating awareness around mental health, covid-19 and grief through student friendly avenues, like animations, magazines and games. This will help students have information on how they can be support systems for their friends at schools and improve awareness that will be important for family settings. Their psychological well-being will be improved, and they will always know where and at what point they need to get the necessary support to make their mental health better.
Written By: Amisa Rashid, Psychologist and My Sisters Keeper Fellow. She is also the founder of Nivishe Foundation