- Stress can be defined as a feeling of emotional strain and pressure; it is a type of psychological pain.
- Among students, biological development, the surrounding environment, and demanding societal expectations, including social connections, are among the main stressors.
- With schools being the students, teachers, and support staff’s second home, all efforts should be put in and mindful structures encouraged to ensure everyone in the educational institutions is mentally fit and well cared for.
Stress among students, teachers, and non-teaching staff is an emerging and pertinent issue.
It requires proper management for learning institutions to effectively deliver their mandate holistically, not only as centers of academic excellence but also as centers nurturing the young ones in mind, body, and character.
According to World Health Organization, emotional disorders are common among adolescents with anxiety disorders, with panic or excessive worry being the most prevalent.
WHO estimates that 3.6% of 10-14 year-olds and 4.6% of 15-19 year-olds experience an anxiety disorder, while 1.1% of adolescents aged 10-14 years and 2.8% of 15-19-year-olds experience depression.
Our past discussions in this column delved into the importance of mental health awareness in schools. Let’s focus on what causes stress among students, teachers, and support staff and how the affected can break free.
Stress can be defined as a feeling of emotional strain and pressure; it is a type of psychological pain.
WHO says stress is a state of worry or mental tension caused by a problematic situation.
Everyone experiences stress to a given degree, and our response to stress dramatically affects our overall well-being.
Some of the signs of stress include: anxiety and irritability, sadness, panic attacks and depression, headache and other body pains, feelings of heart racing, dizziness, shaking, high blood pressure, muscle tension or jaw clenching, upset stomach, trouble sleeping, and loss/increased appetite among others.
Sadly, chronic stress can awaken existing health problems and may lead to increased use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and substances, alongside other bad coping strategies like self-harm and gambling.
Those deep in them take them for escapades from reality.
Studies have shown that students in all stages experience some level of stress.
Lower school students may not notably experience extreme stress and mental health issues. Theirs are easily ignored and subconsciously held, only to appear intensely in teenage and early adulthood.
Adolescents and young adults experience complex stress-related complications.
Stressors among students
Biological development, the surrounding environment, and demanding societal expectations, including social connections, are among the main triggers.
- Psychological and physical changes
They trigger behavioral change, heightening vulnerability to intense emotional distress. Students in learning institutions are in their formative stage of development.
While the physical body changes may confuse them, hormonal changes affect their psychological balance. Others, in pursuit of certain body shapes, develop eating disorders.
- Stigma and discrimination
Overweighting, extreme face breakouts and acne, and period poverty can lead to stigma and discrimination, triggering stress.
- Lofty academic expectations
The Kenyan education system glorifies academic excellence over any other merit, excessively pressuring students. The cycle of learning, revising for and excelling in exams, and sometimes accepting failure is usually tedious and stressful.
- Unnecessary comparisons
Students tend to compare themselves with one another academically, talent-wise, financially, and otherwise. A sense of belonging escapes those who feel behind their peers. If unchecked, it may lead to withdrawal, stress, and even depression.
- Bullying and stigmatization
If not well handled amongst students, it can lead to low self-esteem, isolation, high stress levels, depression, and even death by suicide.
- Mishandled diversity
Schools lacking policies or structures on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion + Belonging (DEI+B) risk crisis in handling the differently abled, gender issues, color/racial differences, economic standing, and individuals from minority groups.
- Dysfunctional families
Students brought up by hands-off and absentee parents, orphaned and single-parented families, students of parents battling terminal sicknesses and other troublesome experiences are susceptible to regular stress experiences. Teenage pregnancies and teenage parenting for school-going girls and boys are significant stressors.
Containing the menace
Stress among students can be managed through the following:
- Student mentorship
This should be taken as a special program in schools to handle topical, evergreen issues like biological body changes, sex and reproductive health.
Such programs enable young ones to be aware of their adolescence and early adulthood-related changes, helping them formulate personal coping mechanisms as life skills.
- Role modeling and coaching
School administration should leverage the power inherent in school alumni groups and other non-state actors. Through personalized examples, they can guide the students in navigating life’s pathways.
- Life skills training
With today’s learning environment snatching children from their homes and forcing them to cope with entirely different environments, life skills are essential.
Interpersonal skills, independence and interdependence, personal finance management, wellness, and conflict resolution are very key for survival.
When schools impart these life skills to the students, they equip them to adapt, adjust and coexist even beyond the school environment. Going beyond classwork, these clubs and societies also stand instrumental in making their learning as pragmatic as possible.
- Intentional parenting
Children should be protected from adult issues like divorce and separation. Parents must strive to find amicable co-parenting modalities. Single parents can incorporate family members of the missing gender to mentor and role model the young ones. For instance, single mothers raising boys should have their brothers or fathers play father figures and vice versa.
- Creating safe spaces
For mental wellness, children deserve safe spaces free from gender-based violence and violations of their rights. Families should consider therapy support for the young ones who have experienced adversities such as losing loved ones or exposure to terminal illness in a family. This would foster acceptance and healing of the young ones much early.
- Budgeting for mental health
Kenyan schools rarely invest in mental health matters, significantly because the government does not necessarily fund that. Schools should consider budgeting for mental health training sessions for student leaders, guidance and counseling teams, and the mental wellness of every individual in the school setting.
Peer-to-peer counseling and support groups, allowing students enough sleep, controlling student leaders and teachers who may take advantage of students, and allowing students to have small support groups for sharing and helping one another are additional strategies for students to combat mental health-related issues.
Stress among teachers, support staff
Beyond the mental health issues commonplace with students, the teachers and support staff occasionally face mental turmoil.
The double role of being a teacher/staff and a parent, where some staff are also parents and are further regarded as the learners’ parents at school, is a stressor, especially currently, where the law ties the teachers’ hands from disciplining the learners.
Demanding requirements for timely syllabus coverage within a squeezed timeline, pressure to perform excellently as a teacher, the dynamics of dealing with teenagers, family issues, and being denied basic rights related to their profession, such as timely promotions, are other causes of stress among school staff.
Further, some desire to continue with their education, while others lack proper training; some work in schools struggling financially and salary delays are a problem. Jostling between these imbalances sends some to stress and depression.
Some are also battling terminal diseases and family issues, which disturb their peace and occasionally send them off balance.
The teaching and support staff should embrace mental health and wellness promotion, advocacy, and curative linkages for themselves and the students.
- Wellness groups
They can also form small wellness support groups, nurture themselves into wellness champions, create safe and confidential wellness centers, and advocate for heightened employee welfare.
This would allow them to take care of themselves while also speaking to the employer about the need to allow them leaves, accommodative work schedules, and timely salaries.
- Easy access to help
Allowing teachers access to professional mental healthcare, strengthening their working relationships, and capacity-building them would enhance their confidence, teamwork, and desire to deliver. Passion takes away stress and encourages willingness.
- Government support
The government must take care of its employees by conducting mental health training sessions for teachers and implementing policies that favor and motivate them, such as salary increments and meritocratic promotions.
Embracing personal wellness coping strategies like eating healthy, forging work and life balance, physical exercise, mastery of one’s emotions, finding a small group of friends to share about life, embracing personal development, personal finance management, skills on reflection, yoga and meditation, mastering the art of responsible work delegation, enough sleep, creating safe personal boundaries, and seeking professional wellness support when needed, among other stress coping strategies, is very essential.
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With schools being the students, teachers, and support staff’s second home, all efforts should be put in and mindful structures encouraged to ensure everyone in the educational institutions is mentally fit and well cared for.