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Poor Mental Health Negatively Impacts Education

By Habiba Wakio

Harun sat outside his classroom, fiddling with his watch. It was game time, and everyone was playing on the field apart from him. He was counting minutes, but time seemed to be stalling. Although he badly wanted to leave the school compound, he did not wish to go home. His parents had a big fight the previous day. It was more heated than the previous ones. When he asked his mother about it, she told him everything was fine.

“Don’t worry, son,” she had said. “Your father and I disagreed, but everything is alright.”

“Are you going to have a divorce, Mum? Will Dad leave us?” He’d asked.

His mother had shaken her head firmly. “No, dear. Don’t have such thoughts. Your dad is not leaving us. Where did you hear about divorce?”

“Anita said her parents are divorced. Her father went to Nakuru. She misses him a lot. I don’t want to be away from my father.”

“I promise you won’t be away from him. I will bring him to school for today’s meeting. Would you like that?”

He had nodded happily. “Yes, Mum.”

Harun wiped away the lone tear trailing down his left cheek. His mother had broken her promise. She had not come for the parent’s meeting, nor his father. His classmates had given him a pitiful look, making him feel like an unwanted child.

“Harun,” Ms Farida, the school counsellor, called.

Harun looked up. Ms Farida, drawn in by his eyes and the bruise on his forehead because of a fight he had got into two days before, extended her hand beckoning him. Putting his tiny hands in the counsellor’s, Harun sighed. Finally, someone had noticed him. The two went to Ms Farida’s office. There was a small library at one corner and a desk with two chairs on opposite sides in the middle of the office. Ms Farida sat on one chair and motioned for Harun to sit on the other. Then she took a drawing book from her drawer and gave it to Harun, asking him to draw whatever was on his mind. He drew a picture of his parents and himself standing between them.

“This is a beautiful picture, Harun. You have a beautiful family,” Ms Farida said.

“Thank you, Madam. I wish my parents would always stay together.”

“They will be together because they have a good son like you. Don’t worry, okay?”

Why do they all say this? Harun wondered.  Later, when his mother came, she was very apologetic. She explained how her business meeting had taken longer than scheduled.

“Where’s Dad?” Harun asked. “You promised to come with him.”

Harun’s mother pointed towards the parking lot. “He is parking the car,” she replied. “Go get your bag.”

“Okay, Mummy.”

“Mrs Rashid, I’d like to have a word with you and your husband,” said Ms Farida.

When Harun’s parents joined her in her office, Ms Farida showed the couple a recent test Harun had done and pointed out how poorly he had performed.

“He is neither active in class nor outside the class. He got into a fight for the first time since admission the other day. Is everything okay at home? Harun was not like this before.”

The couple exchanged looks.

“You don’t have to share with me about your issues,” Ms Farida stated, noticing how uncomfortable the couple were growing.

Mrs Rashid looked down on the floor.

“I only have one request,” Mrs Farida said.

“What is it, madam?” Mrs Rashid asked.

“Whatever is going on, please ensure that Harun is not affected. When he has unnecessary thoughts or worries, it affects his studies.”

“My apologies,” said Mr Rashid. “It won’t happen again.”

“Yes,” agreed Mrs Rashid. “We have sorted out the issue. We had this conversation before coming here. Harun matters to us, and his happiness is important. We will always put him first.

I also plan to create time for him as well. I want to be more involved in his academic journey.”

“That is good. I am pleased to hear that you both want Harun to have peace of mind so that he may focus on his studies. What we have discussed in the meeting will be written on the WhatsApp wall. Thank you for coming. It was a pleasure meeting you both.”

The couple thanked Ms Farida and left to get their child. On reaching the car, Harun turned around and waved at Ms Farida with a big smile.

Author’s Notes

Mental health problems can affect a student’s energy level, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and optimism, hindering performance. Research suggests that depression is associated with lower grade point averages and that co-occurring depression and anxiety can increase this association. Depression has also been linked to dropping out of school.

Many college students report that mental health difficulties interfere with their studies. In the American College Health Association 2015 survey, college students identified the following mental health issues as negatively impacting their academic performance within the last 12 months:

Stress (30% of students)

Anxiety (22%)

Sleep difficulties (20%)

Depression (14%)

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