South Africa

Mental health issues everywhere on school path

Mental health issues everywhere on school path
Cape Town - The beginning of another school year is just around the corner, hot on the heels of matric stories of success and failure.

While the mental health dangers for older pupils facing their matric results are well-known, school can throw mental health challenges at children of any age and stage. It’s important for parents to be aware of these, to make the year a happy, fulfilling and successful one for their children, regardless of where they are in their school journey.

Grade 1 is an important milestone as children enter grade school and formal standardised curriculum. This is the start of what will hopefully be a 12-year journey to set them up for the studies and future employment of their choice. It’s normal for children and parents alike to be nervous - especially if it’s your first child being sent off to school. Watch out for signs that your child is experiencing persistent anxiety that goes beyond normal nerves before a big event.

Dr Christopher Varley, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said that anxiety can look different in children than in adults. In kids, symptoms may be physical like stomach aches and headaches, or their behaviour may become disruptive like having meltdowns and throwing tantrums.

“Anxiety happens in kids,” Varley said. “It does not always need treatment.

“The important questions to me are: Is this a problem? Is it getting in the way of functioning? Is it creating stress for the child and the family? Is it causing pain and suffering?”

Starting Grade 8 is another milestone for South African pupils. It brings a change in physical location along with a big jump in workload, academic challenges and social expectations for many.

It comes along with the advent of often tricky teenage years, where your child will need to adjust from being oldest in their primary school environment, to the youngest in the high school hierarchy, bringing with it the danger of bullying and social exclusion.

It is also these years which inform their important subject choice decisions for the later years of schooling.

Natasha Madhav, from the Independent Institute of Education, said that those pupils heading into Grade 11 have an important opportunity to get out ahead of the matric pressure.

“The temptation will be there to put off thinking about Grade 12 until next year, but Grade 11s have the most powerful weapon in their arsenal right now - that of time,” she said. “Doing well now could also pay off pre-emptively, as many higher education institutions will allow provisional placement based on your Grade 11 marks, which will dramatically lift the pressure next year.”

Weekend Argus