Mental Health Education: It’s About Time

Our state of mental well-being is finally receiving its due attention. As more people become less afraid to acknowledge their compromised mental condition in recent trying times, it is imperative that we understand what that entails. Time to debunk myths about mental health and banish them to the infernal regions. 

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The best way to imbibe necessary truths would be adding it into the education curriculum. Bright young minds who are the future will thus revolutionise the ways mental health matters are handled, further illuminating the subject. It is heartening to know that many countries, including Singapore, are on this track. On December 11, Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing announced that mental health lessons will be progressively rolled out to students at primary, secondary and pre-university levels over the next two years. 

“We aim to equip students with the knowledge and skills to build their resilience, strengthen their mental well-being and resolve their challenges,” said Mr Chan. 

After the unfortunate incident at River Valley High School, mental welfare initiatives were progressively lined up for adolescents and younglings. The incident had shed a critical light on mental well-being and the pressures youths face were recognised more than ever. Mr Chan acknowledged the demands of being a student in Singapore. “They deal with expectations that are both self-imposed and imposed upon them by society and their families. They also need to learn to navigate and thrive in a competitive, high-performing environment. On top of all this, our youths’ face unique challenges that the older generations have never experienced before,” 

In his blog, Alfie Hughes commented on why he is all for having mental health lessons taught in schools. “Without being taught the realities of mental health difficulties, children won’t understand the impact that ‘banter’ (whether it be insults, bullying or spreading of lies and rumours) could have. The only way this will change is if we educate them, just like physical health is taught; a compulsory lesson taught within our schools would make all the difference. To know about mental health is a life skill and could help young people get help when they need it or prevent this from getting any worse.”

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Alfie also cited that if physical health (P.E) had been made compulsory, so should mental health. If exams decide their futures, they should also be equipped with tools to cope with the stress that comes along with them. 

So how and where can we start?

With our educators of course. Teachers should level up on their mental health literacy, before they can impart this knowledge to the students. Ministry of Education (MOE) in Singapore decreed in July 2021 that all teachers will receive enhanced professional development on mental health literary as a ‘baseline’ to enhance their abilities to identify and support students that may need help. The ministry will also deploy more than 1,000 teacher-counsellors over the coming years. Teachers will be tasked to also devote them at the start of every school term to check in on the well-being of their students, apart from peer support systems that will encourage students to keep a look out for each other.

The SRI Student Behavioural Research team, which consists of experts and PHD holders in education and psychology identified a 5-T strategy for schools to consider when integrating mental health curricula.

TALKING about mental health

Have students conduct open conversations about mental health to decrease stigma surrounding the subject. This includes providing well-being tips in school announcements to make the vernacular of mental health commonplace.

Providing appropriate TRAINING for teachers and staff

Reiterating the above point, our instructors are often the first adults that students turn to times of distress. In some family situations, teachers spend more time interacting with children than their own parents.

Incorporating mental health into TEACHING

Information about mental health can be incorporated into academics and school work. That can be in social studies lesson where students learn how to identify situation such as stigma or trauma and they can learn how to manage and describe emotions.

Providing helpful TOOLs for students

When counsellors are made accessible to students, the chances of them reaching out are much higher. Students can also be equipped with artillery such as relaxation techniques, mindfulness or learn to traject energy into art or physical exercise.

TAKING CARE of teachers

Institutions should never neglect teachers’ mental health. They are usually subject to high levels of stress and their well-being will directly impact those they influence. Schools should prioritise workplace wellness initiatives and also support for teachers.

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One of the secondary schools in Singapore has implemented an extensive curriculum to uphold mental wellness in school. CHIJ St Nicholas Girls’ Mental Health Education (MHE) programme was designed to strengthen students’ resilience in order to attain good mental health. The programme also ensures that the students will be schooled about mental illness, treatments, and that their help-seeking efficacy be enhanced.

A cultural shift needs to start with the young. With a gradual change in attitudes towards mental health, there will be more respect and support amongst peers and institutions. Students who have social and emotional learning support will do better academically. With a future that is defined by young leaders that possess stalwart mentalities, the skies certainly look brighter.



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