Although UNSDG 3 promotes ‘Good Health and Well Being’, awareness about mental health issues is still lacking in large parts of the world; especially in India where it is still looked upon as a taboo. However, the sudden onslaught of the pandemic coupled with the lockdown is what inspired Raminder Kaur – a teacher at the Choithram School, Indore to launch a project titled ‘Ending the Silence Around Mental Health’. The project explored the mental health related challenges faced by students during the pandemic and also provided immediate solutions for the same while also kick-starting the much needed discussion around mental well-being.
The Amygdala: Let The Mind Bloom
The project titled ‘Ending the Silence Around Mental Health’ started with an attempt to understand the causes of stress among adolescents. During the pandemic, Ms Kaur along with her students, conducted a survey in the local community to ascertain whether other teenagers were facing emotional instability during the pandemic. Findings of the survey were startling, following which Ms Kaur and her students came-up with a creative solution to ensure widespread awareness about mental health and de-stressing the young minds by designing a virtual forum; ‘The Amygdala: Let The Mind Bloom’ (www.amygdalaforum.org).
Named after the integrative centre for emotional behaviour in our brain, the Amygdala was developed as a platform that can help adolescents achieve psychological resilience through international webinars, resource packages and mindful activities. It is a community-driven solution that focuses on long-term impact, empowering action at the local, national and international levels and sustainable educational practices bears significant relevance to UNSDG4 - Quality Education.
During the pandemic, Ms Kaur and her students have organized four international webinars for students and teachers of different schools in India and abroad viz. Bangladesh, Nepal, Philippines, Lebanon, Taiwan, Turkey, Egypt, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, USA and UK during the period August – December 2020. The webinars were conducted by mental health specialists and doctors of the US and India. Webinars by professionals assisted students in learning about coping mechanisms and mindful activities to deal with stress. The webinars dealt with the themes “Happy D.O.S.E” (to boost the happiness chemicals, Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins), “Self-Reflection: It’s Not All In Our Head”, “De-Stress With Us!” and “Finding Your Ikigai”.
Ms Kaur also organised an Online Global Discussion on ‘Believing in Yourself is the Key to Good Health’ for grade 11 and 12 students of my school and schools of Lebanon, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Republic of Korea, Nepal and Philippines on the occasion of UN Day on October 24, 2020. This discussion bolstered positivity amongst students of various schools across the globe and assisted in shattering stereotypes surrounding mental health.
Grassroots Level Activities
At the grassroots level, Ms Kaur organised in-house sessions related to students’ mental well-being for grade 6 to 10 students which were conducted by school counsellors, city counsellors and health officers from Health Department of Madhya Pradesh, India. These were also attended by teachers teaching these classes who realised the importance of facilitating communication between the students, their parents and counsellors to help identify mental health issues. The teachers started building resilience amongst the students by motivating them to write about positive stories and new skills learnt during the pandemic.
As part of the Manodarpan initiative of the Union Education Ministry, she also held poster making and slogan writing activities for the students of Class 6 to 8 which helped students to create awareness on mental well-being and alleviate stress. Thanks to these activities, young students realized the challenge of mental health and the importance of talking to parents or counsellors in case of distress.
On similar lines, she also organised a session by a doctor for parents of grade 9 to 12 to apprise them about various mental health issues of adolescents and their need to be vigilant at all times. Parents were encouraged to listen to their children's problems, provide emotional support in resolving issues related to anxiety and stress and consult the counsellor if need be. They were asked to act as role models as children would closely observe their behaviour and take cues to manage their emotions during these exigent times.
Till date, 750 students of grade 6 to 12, 250 parents and 40 teachers of Choithram School (where she teaches) along with 120 students and 20 teachers of schools of Indore, India and various countries have benefited due to her efforts.
Raminder Kaur is a finalist for Best Initiative for Mental Health Awareness Award because
During the pandemic, Raminder Kaur has emerged as a model of innovation, ingenuity, and compassion in the education domain. She, along with a group of her students, has been tackling the critical issue of mental health and using collaborative ICT tools to provide access to all. Her project ‘Ending the Silence Around Mental Health’ has kick-started a discussion around mental health and well-being, while also benefiting students, teachers and parents.