The theme for World Mental Health Day 2021 will be Mental Health Care for All – Let’s Make It Real! With 18 months of the start of the pandemic, people around the world are still looking for some semblance of normalcy. The “new normal,” as we now call it, is abnormal and should be seen as such. While it has been important to be positive, labeling foreclosure measures as normal often overlooks the negative impact they have on the psychological well-being of people, especially students. As the uncertainty and fear of Covid-19 continues to grip people around the world, there is a need to focus more on mental wellness and the various challenges associated with it.
Impact of the pandemic on the psychological well-being of students
There has been a lot of discussion about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of various segments of the population. However, students, which include young school children, teenage students, and those pursuing higher education, have been most affected by stress and anxiety disorders, in addition to depression, which affects them most. in addition. There is a high risk of toxic stress as students face the lack of physical interaction, limited extracurricular activities, confinement, and the continued pressure to do well in school.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on the education sector, leaving students of all age groups vulnerable. According to UNESCO, for more than 30 weeks between 2020 and 2021, schools did not operate globally. In India, more than 32 crore of school learners were affected in October 2020, including over 16.7 crore of secondary and higher education learners. Globally, at least 463 million children worldwide were unable to access distance learning during the pandemic. Clearly, the long wait for exams and the unconventional continuity of education have triggered immense anxieties among students of all age groups.
Prevalence of mental health problems among Indian students
The World Health Organization (WHO) has predicted that by the end of 2020, around 20% of Indians will suffer from some mental illness. According to the figures, 56 million Indians could suffer from depression and 38 million from anxiety disorders. The World Health Organization also says that in the current wake of the pandemic, India is the most depressed country in the world. One in six children and adolescents aged 10 to 19 suffer from depression. In any disaster or disaster, students are always the most vulnerable with tremendous peer pressure, nascent adolescence, career challenges, and scrutiny from caregivers and parents who can also cope with stress.
Games and gamification to improve learning and reduce stress
Various approaches to gamification, including game-based learning, online gaming, or therapeutic games, have all shown benefits in solving mental health issues in various research studies. Gamification is emerging as a promising avenue for promoting mental health, especially for college students. According to a recent study by Italian universities, 79% of business and university learners admitted that a gamified learning environment would improve their motivation and productivity. Motivation is a key factor in adhering to mental health care protocols, and as a result, gamification is increasingly associated with improved protocol adherence.
A randomized controlled trial with 358 participants in a 2020 study using an emotional fitness game app reported that the gamified app provided 90% adherence and retained 21% more participants, significantly increasing psychological well-being and decreasing self-reported anxiety. The study by the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, MIT, published in the journal PLOS Digital health, showed that gamification is a valuable and effective platform for wellness and mental health interventions that improve motivation, reduce attrition and control anxiety. Likewise, other research overwhelmingly indicates that play contributes to relaxation, as it acts as a means of expression, distraction, and relief from everyday anxieties and stress.
Potential for promoting mental health on an unprecedented scale
Collaboration between digital health platforms and gaming platforms can change the potential for acceptability, affordability and accessibility of a disease that still carries a social taboo but is quickly becoming one of the most threatening issues . Dedicated games, developed in collaboration with medical experts, can promote mental well-being on an unparalleled scale.
The digitization of most activities developed rapidly during the Industry 4.0 revolution due to its potential to impact social and large-scale change. Digital games and digital health are no exception. With the assurance of being able to be treated online without being judged and without social pressure, this represents an opportunity to promote awareness and treatment of mental health issues. On Mental Health Day, we need to break the stigma of talking about mental health and seeking professional support. We need to change our view of mental health and start talking about promoting mental well-being, especially in weakened or vulnerable segments of the population. If students are the future of our country, it is our responsibility to protect them, encourage them and do whatever is necessary to maximize their potential.
(The author is a distinguished public policy professional and a former member of the United Nations, Internet Governance Forum, MAG)