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Times of India
26 October 2010
By Umesh Isalkar
Pune, India

The school mental health programme, which helps diagnose psychological problems in children studying in civic schools, has come to an abrupt halt this year due to a funds crunch.

Two–year–old programme by mimh had made some headway in stemming dropout rate among students
Funds Squeeze
The programme acted as a preventive psychiatric initiative and dealt with students’ emotional and behavioural problems before they turn into disorders.

"The programme had to be discontinued due to lack of funds. We want to help all schools. However, there is no budget provision in the government or corporation schools to run it. If the school education board of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) funds us, we will be able to resume the initiative and continue to help students through trained counsellors and doctors," said Alka Pawar, director of Maharashtra Institute of Mental Health (MIMH). The institute had conducted the programme in civic schools for the last two years.

"It is not possible to stretch the existing manpower in the hospital setup to work in the community regularly. The MIMH and Sassoon Hospital’s psychiatry department have a large population of out–patient department and in–house patients," she added.

The programme was started in 2008. "We approached the state government to run the mental health programme in civic schools. We received grants through District Planning and Development Committee (DPDC), Pune and appointed qualified people on contract. Families were given information, the teachers were trained to identify and refer cases to us and to enhance their communication skills with children and the parents," she added.

Depression, adjustment problems (disorders) and problems of daily living were discussed. Teachers were helped with communication skills training and information on the subjects to discuss all problems with parents. "Our counsellors facilitated the sessions during PTA meetings, as well as independent sessions with children and families," she added.

The programme was aimed at lowering the number of school dropouts and help curbing anti–social behavioural patterns among them, said Pawar.

"The objective was to identify such children and make special provision to address their scholastic difficulties early. It would have eventually helped in curtailing the percentage of school dropouts in civic schools," said Pawar.

As per our studies, many students who drop out of school take to bad habits like smoking and tobacco chewing and progress to alcohol consumption. The chances of some getting abused at workplaces are equally high. They even start misusing the money they earn and can even turn into antisocial elements, said Pawar.

The programme initially focused on screening standard IV students studying in PMC schools. "Children are usually promoted up to standard IV. But if they fail in standard IV, they normally drop out of school. Hence, we decided to evaluate the mental fitness of students studying in standard IV," said Pawar.

Under the programme, we screened over 3,000 students in 2008–09 and 2009–10. Of them, as many as 183 students had some behavioural and emotional problems. A total 143 of them were treated with home intervention wherein parents were taken into confidence to help correct the problems.

While 41 students required hospital intervention wherein the problems were dealt with the help of counsellors and doctors. These students were suffering from conduct disorders, adjustment disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, learning disability, mild mental retardation, alcoholism in parents and single parenting.

"Counselling was separately done at MIMH for marital disharmony, alcoholism, depression or any other psychological problems of parents. With special funding to develop a Child Mental Health (CMH) programme, we would be able to create the infrastructure for a constructive future generation," said Pawar.

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