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Address mental health problems in learning institutions

 Mental health professionals are likely to face work overload and eventually burnout, which in turn affects the quality of their services. [iStockphoto].

The mental health of young people aged 15 to 25 years has taken a severe hit. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there has been a disconcerting 20 per cent increase in the rates of depression, suicides, and substance abuse among this age group.

As they represent individuals across primary, secondary, and tertiary education levels, it's imperative for educational institutions to address these concerns. Most learning institutions assign teachers the role of guidance and counselling. However, it is becoming increasingly evident that this approach is ineffective, given the complex nature of mental health. Students often hesitate to share their struggles with teachers, fearing judgment or negative consequences.

Thus, there is a pressing need for governments and private institutions to provide trained therapists who possess expertise in confidentiality and child psychology. Though this might be an expensive undertaking, it is certainly a necessity in this dire state of mental disorders.

For instance, research from the African Research Journal of Education and Social Sciences reveals a grim reality: Between 2015 and 2021, there were 74 reported suicides among secondary students in Butere sub-county. This is not just a cry for help but a need for mental professional intervention.

The high number of students in learning institutions does not allow for an extensive one-on-one between the students and the counsellors.

This means available mental health professionals are likely to face work overload and eventually burnout, which in turn affects the quality of their services. Equipping students with knowledge and skills to handle mental health issues and enabling them to provide peer support could lighten this load. Since students are more likely to open up to their peers, isn't it logical to equip them with the ability to professionally help their friends out?

Furthermore, the fact that young adults are away from their parents and have a lot of freedom and time on their hands has left them more susceptible and predisposed to risky ventures. In an attempt to pass time, some engage in drug and substance abuse, which eventually contributes to poor academic performance and increased depression.

A study by Globally Minded, a foundation focused on improving research and evidence on mental health, showed that out of a 923-student sample in a Kenyan university, 35.7 per cent had moderate depression symptoms while 5.6 per cent had severe depression. It is also in higher learning institutions that some students engage in highly toxic and compromising romantic relationships.

As most of these relationships stem from loneliness, lust and a rush of dopamine, they do not last. In most cases, the break-ups are brutal, leaving them heartbroken. Their mental health suffers the most as most of them fall into depression.

Crimes of passion, such as physical assault and, in the extreme, murder, are on the rise among university students. All these could be avoided by making sure the students are involved in productive activities within the school. Clubs and associations can help keep them out of making life-ruining decisions.

Ms Kariuki is an intern at JKUAT Corporate Communications Office.

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