12. Stress and Resilience Capacity of Students: A Burning Public Health Issue – Positive Psychology

CHAPTER 12

Stress and Resilience Capacity of Students: A Burning Public Health Issue

Sibnath Deb, Aneesh Kumar and Anjali Gireesan
Department of Applied Psychology, Pondicherry University, Puducherry

Abstract   Stress among students has become a global public health issue because of over expectation of parents, academic competition and limited job opportunities. Stress has different connotations in different contexts of our lives. The present secondary review-based study attempts to highlight the stress experienced by students at various levels, causal and contributing factors behind the same and its consequences. The chapter also throws light on the resilience capacity of the students and its role in managing stressful events. Evidences indicate that the most common stress experienced by the students is academic stress resulting from over expectation and academic workload followed by stress caused by social pressure and peer comparisons. The other types of stress include poor peer acceptance, disturbed family environment, conflicts in interpersonal relations, problems and anxiety related to transition and changes in life. The fallout of academic stress is gradual deterioration of physical and mental health including cognitive and affective functioning. It has also been observed that the management of stress by students depends on their resilience capacity. A slight variation in performances even in case of high achievers can cause internal stress which may be challenging to cope up with and would even take to the extent of suicidal ideation and attempt. Intervention programmes indicate that stress can be managed though various mind–body programmes. In fact, it might be stated that students experience a range of stress on myriad issues and these can be managed through enhancing their resilience capacity. It can be inferred from the studies that there is an urgent need to take up institution-based intervention programme to empower students with knowledge and information about various issues which disturb adolescents and also enhance their resilience capacity to face challenges in life. Again, this calls for recruitment of student counsellors or psychologists, in all educational institutions, for addressing mental health needs of the students.

The importance of mental health as a key component in child and adolescent development is beginning to influence global health initiatives (Sawyer, Afifi, Bearinger, Blakemore and Dick, 2012). This is of particular significance because it is predicted that when the current generation of children become adults, depression will be the second greatest contributor of disease, globally (Mathers and Loncar, 2006). Stress is a subjective sensation with a varied degree of perception. Stress includes a wide range of strong external stimuli, both physiological and psychological, which can cause a physiological response called, ‘the general adaptation syndrome’, first described in 1936 by Hans Selye in the journal Nature. The transition from eustress (curative stress or positive form of stress) to distress (having negative implications) occurs when the demands exceed the personal and social resources that the individual is able to mobilize (Selye, 1956). Distress is generally triggered by a disturbing/unexpected event in one’s life, for example, failure in exams, divorce, notification of debt, tax, etc. It affects an individual’s mental and physical health negatively.

Stress relates to all minor and major events in one’s life. It has become a matter of pubic heath and concern (Shahmohammadi, 2011). Stress among students is a major concern as the future and development of a country lies in the hands of the youth. It would affect a child’s mental, physical and social functioning. Although the literature tends to focus on the impact of single-variable stressors on children’s development, in real-life situations, children experience stress from multiple sources (Jewett and Peterson, 2010). Experts suggest that globally children experience stress and they manifest it through depression or avoidance (Jewett and Peterson, 2002). Among children, stress is most often observed as an overt physical reaction which, generally, is characterized by behaviours like crying, running away from home, emotional outbursts, and self-harming behaviours, headaches and stomach aches, or even motor behaviours (for example, hair twirling, thumb sucking, biting fingernails), toileting emergencies and sleep disturbances (Jewett and Peterson, 2010).

Models of Stress

The term stress has been explained, mainly with the help of medical, environment and psychological models (McNamara, 2000; Suldo, Shaunessy and Hardesty, 2008). In the medical model, stress has been explained as a state of distress in an individual in response to an environmental antecedent. This change in physiological response of an individual can be measured by increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and the presence of hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine that heighten the arousal sates within an organism (Selye, 1956). Distress experienced within a normal range, is adaptive in nature; this heightened arousal prepares an organism to effectively deal with stress. However, in the long term, chronic stress which is a consequence of prolonged distress has been linked to poor health conditions including both physical (Raguram, Weiss, Keval and Channabasavanna, 2001; Sundblad, Jansson, Saartok, RenstrÖm and EngstrÖm, 2008) and mental well-being (Wang and Ollendick, 2001). In the environmental model, stress is defined as external factor, including threats and environmental problems. External stress can cause negative outcomes like anxiety, depression and aggression; also it can affect academic achievement, cause substance abuse and poor life satisfaction. Although biological and environmental stress have both been linked to negative outcomes of stress for adolescents, neither of the models sufficiently explains why some adolescents who experience similar types of stress do not experience the negative outcomes while in some others it was manifested (Suldo et al., 2008).

Psychological model of stress focuses on the concept of perceived stress, which refers to interactions between an environmental precipitant (external stress); the physiological reactions of the body (distress); and a person’s cognitive, emotional and behavioural response to this interaction (ibid.). Stress is perceived when an external event causes aversive physiological and cognitive distress in an individual that exceeds his or her emotional and behavioural repertoire designed to negate the harmful effects of external stressors. The conceptualization of perceived stress allows for consideration that certain individuals may possess resources, such as coping that allow them to experience external stress without experiencing compromised functioning (Luthar, Sawyer and Brown, 2006). In recent years, this transactional perspective of stress has come to be regarded as the most widely accepted and cited definition of stress. Children and adolescents who report high levels of perceived stress are at high risk for negative outcomes, such as depression, substance abuse (Sinha and Jastreboff, 2013), academic underachievement (Deb and Walsh, 2011; Schmeelk–Cone and Zimmerman, 2003) and diminished life satisfaction (Shahmo–hammadi, 2011).

Causes of Stress

Researchers observed that multiple stressors interact with one another and can have cumulative effects (Jewett and Peterson, 2010). Being physical or emotional, internally or externally generated, the stressors are classified as external and internal combination of endogenous and exogenous factors and system-induced stress (Shahmohammadi, 2011). Exogenous or external factors are those factors which originate from outside and individual have no control over that. These external factors place demands or exert stress on the individual, which may include pressures and demands from people or situations. These factors may originate and can be from people known or unknown to the individual and, also from life events such as bereavements, illness, job and others. The stress among children due to external stressors would include separation from family, exposure to arguing and interpersonal conflict, exposure to violence, abuse or neglect.

Endogenous or internal factors include strong memories of previous unpleasant experiences, which make individuals highly sensitive to such instances. They anticipate the same unpleasant events, and their fear gives rise to feelings of inferiority, inadequacy and uncertainty (ibid.). Also internal stress would include somatic complaints, pain, hunger, etc. Some conditions including disability or chronic illness like cancer or HIV/AIDS can exert stress on individuals. The combination of endogenous and exogenous factors also leads to the creation of stress. In children, the experiences of rejection, failure, exposure to violence or neglect and related emotional or physical pain can later cause stress. This can affect development and adjustment in later stages of life. System-induced stress is another type of stress identified by psychologists where the system refers to organizations like school, family, office and other such social structures in which an individual functions (ibid.). Life becomes tough if any of these systems act as stress inducing. This type of stress is highly relevant for developing societies on the context of changing demands in the family and workplace. One group of society, which is a victim of system-induced stress, is the student community. The academic pressure and workload together with pressure, punishment and high expectations from parents and teachers, create burden and makes student life stressful and depressing (Kumar, Gireesan, and Deb, In Press).

Negative events, crises and challenges in life are unavoidable, evoking a plethora of human responses. Some individuals adapt while others fail to cope up with stressful experiences. Maintaining personal well-being requires skills and resources to overcome negative events. Resilience research explores protective factors and processes that result in positive outcomes despite elevated risk for maladjustment (Luthar, Sawyer and Brown, 2006; Masten, 2004). The broad objective of this chapter is to highlight the stress experienced by students at various levels, its casual and contributing factors and its consequences. This review-based chapter has generated evidence from national and international journals, periodicals and various government documents.

Students Stress: An Indian Scenario

The period from childhood to adolescence has varied changes and developments which are marked by physical and psychological changes. These changes and transition can also cause stress and pressure among them. But, rather than the stress caused by the sudden and abrupt developmental changes, the stress caused by family, academic and other environmental stressors is more challenging and affects the development and health of an individual (Howard and Medway, 2004). When we look back to Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘basic education’ that was based on the cultural tenets of the Indian society with the introduction of a productive handicraft, related skills and knowledge systems in the school curriculum we find failed to make a long-term impact on the existing educational system in India. Under British influence, education in India became textbook-oriented, both for the teacher and the students, demanding that students memorize class material for reproduction in examinations. Being thorough in covering the content of textbook content was seen as a way of preparing the students for major examinations and for a secure life afterwards (Verma, Sharma and Larson, 2002). This has developed into the present education system.

Corporal punishment is a part of Indian culture where parents believe that punishing children is the best way to have control over them and/or to modify their behaviour. However, there is some evidence for corporal punishment in the ancient Indian history. There is an ancient dictum (Chanakya-Neeti) in the Indian history, ‘Lalayet Pancha barsani, dasabarsani tarayat, prapte tu shodhase barse putra mitra badacharet’, which means ‘indulge the child up to five years, punish him up to ten years, and when he reaches sixteen, treat him as a friend’ (Raj, 2011). Corporal punishment can be emotionally harmful to children. Researches indicate that children receive messages confusing love with pain, and anger with submission, which is psychologically harmful (Deb and Modak, 2010; Deb and Walsh, 2011). Many went on to argue that children cannot be disciplined without punishment. Studies have also found that children tend to admit that parents and teachers have the right to punish them and should never revert back, but these experiences tend to be stressful and painful for them (Deb, Kumar, Bhattacharyya and Jiandong, 2012; Kumar et al., In Press).

Stressors for children are either present at home or at school where they spend a substantial part of their childhood. These two places are often considered to be the safest and ideal places for their overall developments. At home, children experience corporal punishment in the hands of their parents. They often encounter abuse including physical, sexual or of emotional nature by their relatives and others, witness violence and drug abuse, and become victims of sibling rivalry or cultural beliefs. On the other hand, at school children become victims of bullying or experience punishment and poor relations with teachers in addition to exam anxiety, school workload, academic pressure and completion.

Pre-school Children and Stress

Childhood depression is widely under recognized in primary health care settings. This phenomenon appears to increase with younger age. Evidence has been provided for a valid depressive syndrome among pre-school children (Luby et al., 2002, 2003). Based on the need for the earliest possible identification of depression, the development of a brief screening measure to capture young children with markers of depression from these community settings was developed and tested (Luby, Heffelfinger, Koenig–McNaught, Brown and Spitznagel, 2004). Most of the pre-school children do display typical symptoms and signs of stress and depression (Luby et al., 2004). Stress in overall prevalence was consistent with rates for older children and was significantly related to minority status, male sex, low socioeconomic status, father’s absence and small family size (Lavigne et al., 1996).

Research evidence also suggests that preschool children can manifest typical symptoms of depression when age-adjusted symptoms states are assessed (Luby et al., 2002). Anhedonia appeared to be a specific symptom and sadness/irritability appeared to be a sensitive symptom of preschool children with depression (Luby et al., 2003). There is a significant need for early identification of emotional/behavioural problems in very young children. Stress and disruptions in family life may further contribute to risk for persistent problems in later stages (Briggs–Gowan, Carter, Skuban and McCue, 2001).

Stress among School Students

Indian children, today, are under severe stress. When we analyse a regular school student’s life, we find they rush to school early in the morning and from there to tuitions, and then to coaching institutes. Some children even have more than two tutors and their classes start form early morning, even on Sundays and holidays. And finally they return home with sacks of assignments and projects. At home, parents pressurize them for better academic performance and for reaching their expectations in the process cutting down on their play time and leisure. Adding to the stress is the punishment children receive at home. School life is not much different. Teachers and tutors bombard children with workloads and tests. Schools have become factories which concentrate more on quantity and less on quality. They use corporal punishments and do little or nothing for the well-being of children; rather they concentrate more on marks received by the students which would uplift the school’s popularity.

Stress among students in India can be generally classified into two major classes of stress related to academic work incorporating pressure, burnout, test anxiety, workload and stress due to other factors including relationship issues, violence, conflicts, and so on (Abraham, Zulkifli, Fan, Xin, and Lim, 2009). Children’s psychological adjustment to the stress has been shown to affect educational progress which is critical for their future (Cortina et al., 2013). The problem of test anxiety is much more significant in Indian and other Asian children as compared to non-Asian children (Wang and Ollendick, 2001). Indian students express a collectivistic nature and, also relate strongly to relationships with parents and elders, hence conflicting relations can be stressful for them (Verma et al., 2002). A number of studies investigating the nature of anxiety and depression in Asian cultures in general, and in India in particular, have reported that Indian children tend to express psychological conflicts through somatic symptoms (Raguram et al., 2001).

Academic Stress, Exam Anxiety and Workload

Indian classrooms have been termed as ‘joyless’ and loaded with academic burden by the National Advisory Committee report constituted in March 1992 by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (Verma et al., 2002). In the current education system in India, students have to take three to four examinations per academic year. Particularly, the examinations at the end of the 10th and 12th grade have a significant impact on the lives of children and their parents (Shahmohammadi, 2011). Exam or test anxiety has been observed to be very common in children across the globe (Bodas and Ollendick, 2005). In India, anxiety and stress, due to academic pressure, is experienced among school students and adolescents due to high expectations and pressure by parents (Deb and Walsh, 2010; Deb et al., 2012). It was reported that in a year in India alone 3130 children, approximately more than six children per day, committed suicide of which a major reason was failure in examinations and family issues. Also 7% suicides in Chandigarh were due to failure in examination (National Crime Records Bureau, 2010).

Performance in these exams is crucial for career formation including choosing of higher education at universities and colleges and also bringing prestige to the family (Bodas and Ollendick, 2005). Such practices exert tremendous pressure on the students. It was found that the experience of being evaluated, critiqued or judged commonly on the basis of tests or exams resulted in emotional disturbances, uneasiness and negative feelings towards self and environment (Donaldson, Gooler and Scriven, 2002). Students’ perceptions of their educational environment and their personality characteristics are linked with test anxiety (Bagana, Raciu, and Lupu, 2011). It has been found that test anxiety could affect a child’s adjustment at home, school, social and emotional functioning (Bodas and Ollendick, 2005). With regard to the interactional effects of age, gender and educational level, Indian school-going females reported more test anxiety than those in college; whereas, Indian college males had higher test anxiety than their school-going counterparts (ibid.). A negative relationship is generally seen between self-esteem and optimism and test anxiety (Bagana et al., 2011). The ‘do or die’ competitive educational system was thought to induce high levels of stress in students as well as parents.

School workload and experiences are also related to stress levels (de Anda et al., 2000). Specifically, adolescents in India were found to spend majority of their quality time in school-related activities. Moreover, it was found that schoolwork generated negative emotional states including frustration and unhappiness. School workload including homework and tightly packed time table were found to be the major reasons to create pressure and stress among students (Shahmohammadi, 2011).

Peer Relations, Acceptance and Bullying

There is strong evidence that peer victimization including bullying, poor peer relations and experience of repeated harassment from peers, is detrimental to students’ psychosocial development and is a major stressor (Troop–Gordon and Gerardy, 2012; Bauman, Toomey and Walker, 2013). Bullying and peer victimization is associated with increased risk for suicide among youth (Kim, Leventhal, Koh and Boyce, 2009). Both perpetrators and targets of peer bullying are at higher risk of suffering from depression, suicide ideation and are more prone to attempt suicide than adolescents not involved in bullying (Kim et al., 2009; Bauman et al., 2013). Poor peer relations in schools would negatively affect a student’s mental health and it would result in poor scholastic interest and performances added with poor social relations and self-esteem (Kshirsagar, Agarwal and Bavdekar, 2007; Troop–Gordon and Gerardy, 2012). Females are more prone to internalizing and males to externalizing negative experiences (Bauman et al., 2013).

Relation with Teachers

Majority of Indian teachers use corporal punishment for better academic performances and disciplining and express their dissatisfaction on academic performance by the child which in turn, leads to stress and other emotional problems even sometimes causing suicides (Deb et al., 2012). Sometimes, a teacher’s acts, attitudes and classroom preferences can have negative effect on the students (Sava, 2002). Most of the research studies focus on positive teacher communication behaviours, whereas fewer studies have been done on negative teacher communication behaviours which can really be detrimental to a student’s development (Sava, 2002). Maltreatment, abuse and lack of support by teachers would have strong reflection on a student’s academic, emotional and personal development (Newberry and Davis, 2008). Teachers tend to have a special liking to students, who stand out in their academic performance (Hughes, Zhang and Hill, 2006; New-berry and Davis, 2008), male students are liked by female teachers (Sava, 2002) and vice versa, and a particular dislike towards some students. Poor relations with teachers or children who are neglected in classrooms by teachers would develop psychosomatic symptoms, poor psycho-social development and low academic performances (ibid.) and the relationship with teachers can have sustained and greater impact on student’s later life (Uitto, 2012). Children who are sexually abused by teachers tend to develop greater psychological problems of depression and suicidal ideation. Students, who have close relations with teachers have better peer relations, enjoy school and academic activities and also experience less stress at school (Hughes et al., 2006).

Stress at Home: Sibling Rivalry

Children are at high risk for being victims of aggression and violence by their own siblings (Linares, 2006; Khan and Cooke, 2008). Exposure to sibling violence and rivalry would later become risk factors for impaired psychological functioning of the child which could be as internalizing symptoms like depression, anxiety and low-self esteem or external-izing symptoms like destructive behaviour and poor social interactions (Linares, 2006). More conflict and less warmth between siblings have been linked to problems including depression, anxiety and anti-social behaviours including alcohol and drug abuse (Khan and Cooke, 2008). Also, poor sibling relations lead to disruptions in school performances and interest (Linares, 2006). Sibling rivalry and violence may end up in teasing, ridiculing, insulting, threatening to even terrorizing or physical or sexual abuse including slapping, hitting, biting, kicking, touching or fondling, indecent exposure or to the extent of forced sexual acts (Cyr, Wright, McDuff, and Perron, 2002; Hardy, 2001). The stress experienced by sibling violence affects a child’s mental and social functioning. It gives rise to high internal stress which is similar to characteristic features of post-traumatic stress disorder in later stages of life (Linares, 2006).

Family Environment and Parental Relations

Children who are brought up in loving, supportive and caring environments are more likely to behave the same way in later stages of life. Children who are brought up in fearful, anger and hostile environment have a higher chance of experiencing similar environments in adulthood. Parental symptoms of depression, family cohesion and family expressiveness emerged as significant predictors of child-reported distress (Jobe-Shields et al., 2009). Parental relation affects a child’s development in all levels including cognitive, mental and physical well-being and also in social relation with peers, school and others (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009). Children raised in different family contexts display differential behavioural and developmental patterns. In particular, children raised in single-parent families have been found to do less well across a range of measures of well-being than others. Also parental separation or divorce has been found to be associated with an array of adverse outcomes for children (Mackay, 2005; Pickhardt, 2009). Parent’s remarriage and relations with step parents are also found to be risk factors to stress among children due to less affection, abuse and neglect (Pickhardt, 2009). Intra-parental conflict, partner violence including verbal or physical conflict would negatively affect the child’s mental state leading to depression or even developing behavioural problems (de Anda et al., 2000). Financial crisis, socio-economic conditions (Bodas and Ollendick, 2005) and drug or substance abuse (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2009) among parents can greatly act as stressor for students. Children with poor family conditions and attachment with parents are found to have low self-esteem and socializing skills (ibid.).

Indian parents take active involvement in academic activities of their children. They emphasize on academic achievement as they control the child’s leisure, play and social activities and often send their children to tuitions in order to advance their academic achievements even when their children perform well at school (Verma et al., 2002; Deb et al., 2012). In particular, feelings of shame and disgrace to oneself and one’s parents and family may be associated with examination failure (Wang and Ollendick, 2001). Studies have also reported that parents’ educational and occupational status was positively correlated with test anxiety and academic pressure in children (Bodas and Ollendick, 2005). A majority of Indian parents apply corporal punishment for better academic performances and for disciplining their children (Deb et al., 2012). Corporal punishment and emotional neglect have been found to cause stress and anxiety among students (Muhisina, 2013). Lack of parental support and rejection would also be a causal factor to stress (Deb et al., 2012).

Stress among College and University Students

College students also experience stress, but the stressors and its manifestations are different from that of children. Relationship problems, loveless and neglectful bonding with parents, physical abuse were found to be stressors for college students (Singh, Manjula and Philip, 2012). Also, academic burden, career and marriage conflict, transition from school to college and then to workplace, competition and exam stress, affect an adolescent’s mental and physical well-being (Al-Sowygh, Alfadley, Al-Saif, and Al-Wadei, 2013). It was reported that in a year alone in India, family issues, failure in examinations and unsuccessful romantic relationships were reported as the major reasons to have driven 47,625 youths (aged between 15–29 years) to commit suicide (National Crime Records Bureau, 2010). Adverse childhood experiences can also manifest as depression in later stages (Singh et al., 2012).

Transition from School to College

The students’ transition from one to another level of their formal education can be experienced as challenging and stressful in life (Negovan and Bagana, 2011) because in these new situations individuals experience many significant and different events, where they find themselves in different and unfamiliar situations having to cope with new and sometimes difficult experiences (Jindal–Snape and Miller, 2008). The transition from high school to university or college education can also be considered as a crisis which also coincides with the transition from late adolescence to early adulthood. In the transition stage of their academic life, students experience three major stressful situations which may significantly affect their mental and physical well-being; the stressors being exposure to a new environment, being required to make new responses and the establishment or loss of significant relationships (Negovan and Bagana, 2011).

Changing Relationships

Several factors affect relationships and forms of relationships among adolescents (Tagay and Karataş, 2012). In Indian culture, romantic relationships are not much supported and students are expected to adhere to parental decisions. These cultural and societal norms put great pressure on adolescent relations and put them in a greater state of confusion with regard to decision making (Tagay and Karataş, 2012). Romantic relationships and the style of attachment it evokes have a great influence on the adolescent. Poor, insecure, and avoidant type of attachment style with partner results in stress and confusion in both partners. Relationship satisfaction, in general, refers to feelings, thoughts, or behaviours within a relationship associated with sexual attitudes, professed feelings of love, commitment, self-disclosure and relationship investment (Demir, 2008). Several studies have shown that the quality of romantic relationships is a significant source of happiness and subjective well-being (Demir, 2008; Demirtas and Tezer, 2012). Problematic romantic relations or failure in romantic relations would be stressful and may lead to depression (Demirtas and Tezer, 2012) and suicide (National Crime Records Bureau, 2010). Another major problem which adolescents face is lack of parental support, poor attachment with parents and neglectful parenting (Singh et al., 2012). Relations with parents reflect in their personality and, also in all realms including academic performances and future aspirations (Anders, 2011). Poor family conditions both psychologically and economically would cause stress in students and also exert pressure on them (Byrne, Davenport and Mazanov, 2007).

Academic Burden and Workload

Assigned workload and performance pressure have been observed as the main perceived stressors among students who take up regular college or university education (Abraham et al., 2009). Examinations, fear of failing, workload and completing course requirements ranked highest among stressors related to student in training and the academic environment (Byrne et al., 2007; Trifoni and Shahini, 2011). It was found that students doing professional courses like medical and dental course experienced high workload, stress and pressure (Abraham et al., 2009; Al-Sowygh et al., 2013). They experienced stressful transition and exam anxiety when they passed from one year to another till the final year of the course. Lack of language skill was experienced as stressful by first year students. Inappropriate and conflicting evaluations and criticisms, and approachability to faculty were other reasons for stress (Trifoni and Shahini, 2011).

Career Planning and Marriage

In our society, boys are still considered to be the ones to undertake the economic responsibility of the family in future and are expected to obey the rules more in order to meet the expectations of the family and society. In view of these high expectations, men are said to regard the needs of others more than their own. On the other hand, girls are brought up as being scared of close relationships in our society and their submissive and obedient behaviour is supported. Marriage and career planning are also challenges for adolescents (Byrne et al., 2007). Adolescents who delay career planning and marriage tend to experience less conflict and stress (Barnett, Gareis, James and Steele, 2003).

Indian Cultural Beliefs, Society and Environmental Factors as Stressors

The cultural beliefs and practices of people relating to health is part of a society in which they live. The effect of culture is observed in all areas, including health and child care. Prac-tices are often based on hearsay and can be detrimental to general health. Children represent the core group most affected by traditional practices. Child marriage and gender discrimination is also a great barrier for the well-being of children (Malhotra, Warner, McGonagle and Lee-Rife, 2011). A female child is considered as a burden for the family, where she is subjected to abuse and her needs including education and well-being are neglected (Gupta, 2007). Also, in some sections of the society education of children is not considered important and children are sent as child labourers or for forced begging (Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2007). Children with disability or mental illness are also at risk of victimization due to faulty beliefs (Edwardraj, Mumtaj, Prasad, Kuruvilla and Jacob, 2010). Children with chronic illness like HIV/AIDS and cancer also experience rejection from the society. There are many other cultural beliefs and societal attitudes which trigger stress and hamper well-being of children.

Other than the cultural beliefs, the community or society and even neighbourhood has a key role in maintaining the mental health of students (Herrenkohl, Sousa, Tajima, Herrenkohl and Moylan, 2008). Child abuse and neglect including sexual abuse is highly prevalent in India. These scars of child abuse may tamper a child completely to the extent of breaking their mental health to depression or other feelings of inadequacy (Deb, 2011). Street children and orphans are also at serious risk of stress and illness. Violence and exposure of students to violence can have serious impact; it has been seen that children exposed to violence tend to experience stress that affects their life in all spheres. These children who are exposed to violence and trauma like war and natural calamities like earth quakes, tsunami or other, tend to experience greater stress and later develop post-traumatic stress disorder (Wolfe, Scott, Wekerle and Pittman, 2001).

Resilience and Protective Factors

Resilience refers to an end-point identification of a child having overcome early risk exposure (that is, achieved positive outcomes or avoided negative outcomes). Protective factors are those qualities of the individual, experiences and aspects of a child’s social environment that increase the likelihood of resilience on the part of those exposed to earlier risks (Herrenkohl et al., 2008). Protective factors are those variables that buffer against the effects of risk factors. Resiliency is the ability to thrive in the face of adverse circumstances. Resilience seems to be particularly relevant for adolescents’ life satisfaction due to the influence that academic success, social competence and avoidance of risky behaviour may exert in fostering desirable and satisfactory courses of life (Abolghasemi and Varaniyab, 2010). Understanding specific mechanisms that promote resilience in children and adolescents is an important research agenda. Risk and protective factors can be broadly grouped into four domains–child, family, school and community factors.

In general, research has found that multiple risk and protective factors are often associated with a single outcome. For example, the likelihood of stress among children is increased by temperament of the child, family, school and community risk factors, such as disturbed child-rearing, peer rejection and impoverished family conditions. Similarly, the likelihood of stress among children is decreased by the temperament of child, family, school and community protective factors such as child’s social skills, positive parent–child relationship, positive peer modelling and positive social norms in the community (Masten, 2004). Many outcomes are also influenced by the same risk and protective factors. For example, neglectful and disturbed parenting can be a risk factor for stress, depression, school failure, poor physical health, physical abuse and drug use. Conversely, a positive parent–child relationship protects against all of these outcomes. The way, risk and protective factors interact to produce positive or negative outcomes at different stages of a child’s development is complex and not always clearly understood. It may be that some protective factors only operate when certain risk factors are present. While risk and protective factors are common to certain outcomes, the pattern of risk and protection will vary widely from child to child. It is important to recognize the limitations of research in this area. Risk and protective factors are often only correlated with certain outcomes; they are not causally related to these outcomes. It may be that another variable better explains the relationship between the risk/protective factor and the outcome.

It was found that the top five coping strategies, frequently used by the students were religion, active coping, positive re-interpretation, planning and use of instrumental support; however, the main coping strategy was religion. These strategies are positive coping strategies which have been reported in studies as very adaptive and hasten the recovery from distress (Shahmohammadi, 2011).

Prevention

Literature shows the negative effects of stress on future stakeholders of a country. School and academic environment can be the most appropriate sites for intervention, not only because of the accessibility to the population, but because stressors reported to be experienced most frequently by the adolescents are those relating both directly and indirectly to the school environment (de Anda et al., 2000). Professionals, in particular, psychologists, social workers, teachers and school administrators, need to recognize that a sizable portion of the adolescent population deals with stress in their daily life. Stress management interventions need to be coupled with attempts at reducing the number, intensity and impact of stressors in the adolescents’ environment.

Conclusion and Recommendations

To be a child is to be playful and fun-loving, but in today’s world, with the pressure imposed by the academic overload, expectations and other causes, children have lost their smiles. The academic overload in school and unrealistic parental demand and social expectations are imposing severe stress on students, especially among adolescent students (Shahmohammadi, 2011). Our increasing knowledge about the importance and impact of stress on young children should be put to good use in reducing stress factors for young children and in assisting children to increase coping strategies and healthy responses to the unavoidable stresses in their lives. In order to address stress and other allied problems experienced by students, there is a need to bring a national policy for recruitment of proportionate number of student counsellors in every educational institute for addressing mental health needs of the students; orga-nize life skills training programmes for students to enhance their resilience capacity; organize special training programmes for students as to how to study systematically and prepare for the examinations; organize periodic workshops, special lecture and seminars in educational institutions for parents and teachers to sensitize them with various issues which cause stress to students.

References

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