A recent article from NPR sheds light on an initiative that makes happiness courses part of the school curriculum in Delhi, the capital of India. The courses have become a mandatory 35 minutes of the school day as part of an effort to make the country’s education system more centred on emotional wellness rather than just academic achievement.
The courses are a radical step away from traditional academia, with the allotted time spent on meditation and ‘creative exercises’ instead of exams and assignments. With one in four Indian children ages 13 to 15 struggling with depression, these classes are intentional tools to help lessen that number.
The child mental health crisis by no means exists in India alone, though. The UK and US, as two examples, have recently published similarly shocking data as well.
In the UK, the NHS said last month that 400,000 young people, ages 18 and under, contacted the service for help with mental health. In the US, one in three young peoplefrom 13 to 18 meet the criteria for anxiety disorder and 32 percent of teenagers are struggling from feeling sad or hopeless.
These numbers should be shocking, but as the mental health crises among all peoples seems to more widely discussed, it is in some ways, oddly, becoming more normalised.
That being said, the significance of India’s happiness courses cannot be overlooked or overshadowed. An effort of this calibre to address emotional wellbeing of students is something that could bring radical changes to the lives of young people and to education.
There is a danger of schools becoming places that only operate to produce working, contributing members of society. While most can acknowledge that this is an integral part of why education exists, there is a missing focus in many educational institutions on students learning to care for their mental and emotional health as well.
When one considers that schools do indeed cultivate and produce future politicians, doctors, engineers, activists and more, the importance of teaching students’ skills and caring for their wellness should become even more apparent.
Whether schools implement a happiness course is something we will have to watch out for in the coming years. But we all must do more to combat the rise in mental health issues among children and young people. It is less about having a dedicated course, albeit a wonderful concept, and more about creating spaces and ways for young people to cultivate balance and mental health in their lives.
Schools make statements by making emotional wellness classes part of school curricula. There is power in teachers showing students that mental health is not only a normal, addressable topic but one that should be prioritised. Young people can begin to see that caring for themselves mentally and emotionally, not just physically, is essential and encouraged.
Change might start with schools adding happiness courses to students’ daily routines, teachers making time to share mental health resources with parents and children or communities addressing these issues for their young people. However, once the change begins, these actions and conversations have the potential to make all of the difference and to make everyone just a bit happier.