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Children respond fast to mental health interventions: Psychologist Pragati Sureka

This pandemic has brought home a simple fact: that sound mental health is a valuable asset to cope with challenges, both seen as well as unforeseen, says psychologist and author Pragati Surekha

Written by Jayashree Narayanan | Pune | November 25, 2020 12:30:51 pm
mental health books for children, mental health and children, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, hope book, pragati sureka, pragati surekha, depression and children,Pragati Sureka shares why mental health for children is the need of the hour. (Source: PR Handout; designed by Gargi Singh)

It was during her many trips to book fairs, spanning a decade, when psychologist Pragati Sureka realised how books on mental health for children had a negligible presence on shelves. This, coupled with 15 years of professional interactions with people from all walks of life, drew her to write a book Hope: Stories For a Healthy Mind, published by Scholastic India.

Her book narrates the stories of three children Ryan, Shoma and Kabir, who face various emotional challenges because of the stress and strain of modern life, and attempts to further the conversation around mental health for children and parents, too.

In an email interaction with indianexpress.com, the author spoke about the need for such a book, her personal experiences, and why mental health needs to be spoken about right from the initial years.

Excerpts: 

What prompted you to write this book?

There is a dearth of good books that talk about taking care of mental health in an easy manner for young children. While there is a plethora of books available abroad, there are negligible ones available here. I believe prevention is better than cure.

Before I wrote this book, every year, for more than a decade, I have gone to book fairs and asked for books on mental health for young children. Sadly, not one was available (especially the ones which are put up in schools, on Parent-Teacher Association or PTAs).

Children need a holistic, integrated approach for their overall development and healthy growth. Sadly, the availability and role of resources for promoting sound mental health for growing children is minimal.

mental health books for children, mental health and children, indianexpress.com, indianexpress, hope book, pragati sureka, pragati surekha, depression and children, Pragati Sureka’s book deals with the mental health issues faced by children. (Source: PR Handout)

Can you tell us more about the book?

The book has three warm stories pertaining to current mental health challenges, that are widespread today. Ryan, Shoma and Kabir are three children who are struggling with challenges. This book shows how they overcome them. There is a section for parents, too, so that they have a simple guideline about what to do on a daily basis to boost a child’s emotional well-being. The illustrations are soothing and children can instantly connect to the characters in the book.

This book is for anyone who wants children to have sound mental health, and to grow up to be emotionally strong and intelligent adults. This book is for children and parents who are interested in having essential conversations about mental health and emotional well-being. It is also for all stakeholders in a child’s healthy development, like schools, teachers, book clubs, family members, and education policymakers and administrators.

A book like this needs to be in every household so that people learn to take care of their emotional well-being daily. Sound mental health requires small practices, daily. With this book, I hope people realise that taking care of mental health on a daily basis can be as easy and routine as brushing your teeth every morning.

Can you share your experiences of working with children and mental health issues?

Children respond fast to mental health interventions. Once they have a safe venting space, a lot of their issues like distracted behaviour in school, difficulty to cope with the academic curriculum, fighting among each other, or any other such challenge, can be resolved.

There was a young child aged 10 who used the mobile phone a lot to play games and the parents were concerned. The child’s eyesight was weakening, and he had become a complete couch potato. When I spoke with him, I realised the father was constantly on the phone, either talking or checking social media. He could not understand why they scolded him for something that everyone in the house did all the time. After some sessions — which included some lifestyle changes for him — and a session with parents on how they could approach the situation and role-model healthy behaviour, it yielded satisfactory results. With an integrated approach and parental guidance, about how to bring about certain changes in the family system, the problem was resolved.

How important is it to seek help?

People feel that seeking help is for “mad” people. Worse, if they seek help, it means something is wrong with them. They do not want to be labelled as “mentally unstable/mad/pagal”, so they avoid seeking help.

The fact is that psychological counselling is extremely helpful for people (without a diagnosed clinical mental health condition) who want to cope better in day-to-day life situations. Further, it is a useful avenue for self-growth and personal development, if one feels stuck in the rut or helpless in certain life circumstances.

This pandemic has brought home a simple fact: that sound mental health is a valuable asset to cope with challenges, both seen as well as unforeseen. Mental health practitioners have been saying for decades that regular care of your mental health is not optional for any individual, irrespective of age, sex, economic background. Today, most people globally acknowledge the validity of this simple standpoint.

Why do you think mental health conversations need to start early?

Good mental health gives a strong foundation to children for their overall development. They learn to take care of themselves, their relationships and the world around them in an emotionally intelligent and balanced way. Along the way, they develop an asset base of emotional ability resources (EaR) like effective communication, mindfulness, resilience and psychological well-being. Feeling their feelings helps children to think clearly, develop socially and learn new skills. Additionally, simple loving gestures and encouraging words from adults are very important for aiding children to develop self-confidence, self-esteem, and a healthy mind.

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