The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Young, restless & depressed
- Stress and behaviour disorder in school kids

More than 15 per cent of Calcutta’s schoolchildren suffer from behavioural disorders, while about 60 per cent of these young and restless complain of anxiety and depression.

A recent survey by the Institute of Child Health (ICH), Calcutta, has sounded a wake-up call by throwing up these numbers.

“These children are suffering and the various types of pressures are taking a toll on their mental health,” said J. R. Ram, consultant psychiatrist at ICH, a research outfit.

Ram was a member of the team that conducted the survey, undertaken to map the behavioural patterns of the future citizens of Calcutta. The study covered 2,000 children, in the age group of 11 to 16, from 10 city schools.

As the survey went beyond assessing the mental health of the children and probed further, it also found the triggers leading to the trouble.

From stress due to parental over-expectation to burden of books, from peer pressure to perform to exposure to an entire gamut of activities, the ICH exercise has identified the causes behind the effect.

According to Ram, hyper parenting — constantly keeping the child engaged in activities (tennis, swimming, drawing, private tuition) — and expectation of high performance in every field are some of the key reasons behind growing anxiety and depression among the children.

“In many cases, it has been seen that as working parents cannot spend much time with their wards, they encourage the children to take part in as many activities as possible,” Ram added.

As the researchers conducted the survey, they also came across children with disruptive behavioural disorders, like oppositional defied disorder (when the child becomes rude and disobedient and opposes everything). Lack of attention, restlessness and fixation for perfection were the other disorders noticed among students (see graphic).

But the ICH team was appalled to find some adolescent girls causing self-harm when they failed to cope with the pressure. “The percentage is small, but the problem is serious, as it leads to suicidal tendencies,” a doctor pointed out.

According to him, such behaviour can be linked to acute emotional crises among the teens. “This is different from what adults go through. Adults feel depressed for long, while it is impulse-driven for children. The crisis can arise from even minor rejections,” explained the doctor.

The ICH findings have garnered support from various non-governmental organisations, specialising in education system and helping out parents and their children.

“We have seen that in most cases, the parents are stressed about their children’s academic records, which affects the children,” said Brendan MacCathaigh, CEO of non-governmental organisation SERVE.

According to him, parents complain the children are overburdened with syllabus and marks obtained in the exams are their biggest concerns.

The Council for Indian School Certificate Examinations is taking some concrete steps to tackle the problem by instructing the schools to minimise pressure on students. “Schools should be careful about the syllabus and the number of textbooks,” said G. Arathoon, the Council’s officiating chief executive and secretary.

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