The “Mental School Health Programme” is being touted as the first such initiative for schoolgoing children between the ages of 4 and 16 years.
As the Gujarat government makes mental health a part of its School Health Programme, among the questions it is asking are on a child’s gender identity.
A detailed seven-page questionnaire prepared for parents and teachers deals with 16 mental diseases. It also includes questions such as “whether a boy behaves like a girl” and “a girl like a boy”, “whether a girl expresses her wish to be a boy and a boy expresses his wish to be a girl”, and “whether a child gets consumed in thoughts of his/her gender most of the times”. The respondents can choose answers ranging from “not true” to “always true”.
The “Mental School Health Programme” is being touted as the first such initiative for schoolgoing children between the ages of 4 and 16 years. The module running into 32 pages is to be launched by the Gujarat health department in close coordination with the education department.
The questions for the mental health programme were framed by experts, said Commissioner, Health, J P Gupta. “They have a far better understanding of a child’s mental health condition.
I am sure these must have been added with some valid reason.”
The “mental diseases” identified by the government and covered by the module include dyslexia, autism, mental retardation, Down’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety, psychogenic pain, depression and enuresis (bedwetting). It also covers slow learning, cognitive delay, speech and language delay, attention deficit disorder, and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Once the data is received, the idea is to train teachers to identify these disorders early.
Parents are also required to specify the community they belong to, and the nature of work the father and mother do.
Defending the nature of questions, Dr Hemang Shah, associate professor at department of psychiatry, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad, who is associated with the project, said, “Many a time a person feels he or she is trapped in the wrong body, and often goes in for sex change at a later stage in life. Thus, it is better if we identify such cases at an early age and offer them medical and psychiatric support. Other mental traits like depression and anxiety can also be related to such a gender identity disorder.”
While admitting that community and mental disorders do not have a direct connection, he added, “genetic mapping surely has relevance in assessing a child’s mental health”.
The mental health module for schools, in fact, is based on a screening tool Shah prepared for another Gujarat government project, meant to sensitise teachers on child psychiatric illnesses. The module gives a brief introduction of the “mental diseases”, including their types, indicators, reasons and treatment, before going into the questions.
Explaining why they included mental health in the school programme, Education Minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama said: “Adding mental health adds another dimension to the programme, making it a comprehensive health project. Through this, early detection and cure of mental illnesses that usually either go undetected or uncured will be possible. If detection happens at an early stage, not only will he be able to concentrate on studies, but society will also get a good citizen.”
Commissioner Gupta said, “While the school health programme covers physical ailments of all types, and recently added heart, kidney and bone marrow transplant, there was not much on a child’s mental health.”
Launched nearly two decades ago, the School Health Programme covered 1.57 crore children state wide between November 2014 and January 2015, across anganwadi centres, government and private schools. The mental health aspect was confined to just assessing ‘mental stress’ of students.
Medical Superintendent of Ahmedabad Mental Hospital Dr Ajay Chauhan, who is the programme officer as assistant health officer, Mental Health, also played a key role in preparing the new module. Hospital authorities said that as part of implementation of the project, he was on a visit to Canada.