Mumbai: 'Apni Shala' is teaching BMC school students to overcome mental health problems

Updated: 25 November, 2018 19:25 IST | Anju Maskeri | Mumbai

A non-profit is helping BMC children overcome mental health problems by making them articulate their feelings


In 2013, when Rohit Kumar started Apni Shala to promote mental health in municipal schools, little did he know that five years down the line, it would be the need of the hour. Last month, a 13-year-old girl from the civic-run KD Gaikwad School, Sion, committed suicide in her house in Central Mumbai after she was allegedly humiliated by her teacher in school. The incident put the spotlight on the need for counsellors in BMC schools. In fact, the education department of the BMC now plans to appoint counsellors in schools for the mental well-being of students.

Apni Shala, it turns out, is one of the few organisations that is helping children acquire skills necessary to understand and manage their own emotions. "Mental health cannot be taught using textbooks alone. It has to be a dialogical and collaborative process," says Kumar, who aims to promote social and emotional learning (SEL) among children. The organisation currently has 15 municipal schools on board, where each programme extends from Std 4 up to Std 9. As a rule, volunteers stick to the bottom-up approach, where they first get parents, teachers and principals on board and then go about tackling issues among children.

Rohit Kumar
Rohit Kumar

It begins with de-stigmatising mental health. "Sometimes parents find it hard to even accept that the child might be battling depression or mental illness. 'Mera bacha pagal nahi hai', they say. So we need to tread tactfully," says Shahid Nabi Shaikh, project facilitator. Shaikh admits it has taken him almost a year to build a comfort level with kids. "I remember one child who refused to participate in any of the activities. She would sit aside and watch. After six months, she herself came forward and agreed to be part of it," he says. What hinders the process is that classes are held only once a week.

"It's not enough. You need to invest time and energy training kids in order to make their resilient," he says. He recalls the time he had to deal with students struggling with anger issues. "While helping them channel their anger through art, theatre and music, we also helped them build a vocabulary to articulate their feelings. The idea is to guide them on what needs to be done when you feel a certain way," he adds.

Kids, he adds, have stepped forward to discuss addiction. It's not a task that can be achieved overnight, though. Which is why the organisation has made it an ongoing programme for six years. While they have a curriculum in place, quite often the teachers end up playing it by the ear. "What emerges from interactions is something that no book will tell you," he says.

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First Published: 25 November, 2018 19:15 IST

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