When one thinks of Health, one hardly ever thinks of mental wellbeing. It was a far-fetched idea even at Central High International School until Ruksar Ganja, a medical student at the University of Malawi, College of Medicine, who happens to be a Central High Alumnus, became the flicker of light that ignited a flame of hope for students by making them aware of the need to look after their mental health .During her medical studies, Ruksar got enlightenment about the prevalence of mental health conditions, especially amongst adolescents.
According to Ruksar, mental health plays a vital role in the wellbeing of people, young and old alike. She gave examples of factors which affect mental health in young people, students in particular. These range from stress, anxiety, stigma, bullying and other things like the pressures of school work, relationships and changes in stages of growth. “One in every 3 learners in a school suffers from a mental health condition,” said Ruksar.
This was according to World Health Organisation findings. Ruksar then went on to explain how she interviewed a group of students, including her own sister, just checking on their levels of mental health literacy.
She then spearheaded a campaign which saw lots of senior students at Central High International School come on board. Ruksar’s research, through purposive sampling informed her that much as learners had mental health conditions, very few ever spoke out or sought redress.
This led to the official launch of the association on 30 September 2020, after getting the go ahead from the Head of the school, Dr Nishant Mishra.
An elated Dr Mishra explained how the MHA came as an answer to his long-standing wish to have a platform within the school where the students could be allowed to articulate issues affecting their emotional wellbeing. He had since pondered the idea but could not find a trained person who could offer support. Afraid to affect the smooth running of lessons, he was hesitant to add an extra load to staff.
Nevertheless, after meeting with Ruksar on a number of occasions, he attained clarity and resolve to allow this Association to take root within the institution of Central High International School. He explained how he had always been aware of “anxiety” and how it affects teenagers. This Association was a most welcome development and he strongly believed this was the answer to his unrealised vision.
According to Dr Mishra, the existence of the Mental Health Association in the school has already begun to yield results. It is still in its early stages of inception but already there are signs of a long life ahead because this Association has become part of Central High International School Life, with Year 12 students taking the lead and involving the lower forms’ students to ensure continuity.
This was concurred by a staff member, Mr. Fatsani who is currently a patron of the Association. He also believes that the learners who are part of this initiative will go on to become responsible individuals, cognisant of the impact of their behaviours on other people. He, however pointed out that there was need for staff involvement to ensure checks and balances although the learners, as peer educators, would take the lead roles.