In the last few years, the mental health of students has become an increasingly urgent concern for schools worldwide. On the one hand, abundant research now exists to show the impact of a person’s mental state on their academic performance, later career success, and general quality of life. On the other hand, mental health statistics also show that the number of students suffering from psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety, has climbed disturbingly high.
School authorities and educators the world over are under more pressure than ever to support their students’ mental health, help them overcome any challenges, and empower them to live healthy, successful lives. In Singapore, the Ministry of Education has begun rolling out new and improved initiatives centred around caring for students’ psychological well-being, including mandatory mental health training for all teachers and hiring more teacher-counsellors.
Robust mental health protocols and initiatives have long been major fixtures at all the top educational institutions on the island, from the best IB schools in Singapore to the highest-performing government-run schools. That said, there’s always more that can be done to help students stay psychologically healthy. The following are a few of the most important steps any school should take to support and promote better mental health among their students:
Give Teachers Mental Health Training
Providing teachers with enhanced mental health literacy training is one of the most fundamental measures schools should implement to improve their mental health response. Familiarity with the basics of psychological illness and health empowers teachers to recognise warning signs, assess their students’ risk and resilience factors, and support students at risk. A good training programme will also connect teachers with dependable community-based mental health providers that they can refer students to or work collaboratively with if necessary.
The Ministry of Education also aims to deploy upwards of 1,000 teacher-counsellors to schools across the country in the coming years, a marked increase from the more than 700 currently working in local schools. These personnel are teachers who have received additional, more specialised training and are equipped to support students with severe social or emotional difficulties.
Create a Safe Space for Discussing Mental Health Concerns
Every school should have a particular safe space where students can go for mental health support, such as a dedicated guidance and counselling department. While these spaces are meant to be staffed with trained professionals, it may also have volunteer student and teacher counsellors on hand to assist.
Ideally, the services and initiatives school help centres provide should take their cues from student input. Some projects these centres implement may even be student-designed, such as peer-to-peer counselling sessions or information sessions on self-care. This is to ensure that the kinds of mental health support these centres offer are aligned with the student body’s actual needs.
Integrate Mental Health Education into the Curriculum
The continuing stigma attached to mental illness frequently impedes upfront discussions on the subject. Additionally, many students still tend to conceal any psychological problems they experience out of shame or fear of being judged. Singapore schools can address this difficulty by integrating the subject of mental health into their curricula wherever possible. Some schools, for example, may choose to hold dedicated workshops and forums on mental wellness. Inviting mental health organisations to the school to discuss their work and other relevant topics is another viable option.
Likewise, it’s important for mental health to be discussed sensitively and candidly during students’ regular classes whenever there are opportunities to do so. Health, social studies, and literature classes are all potentially fruitful venues for such discussions to take place, provided teachers are adequately trained to handle them.
Encourage Co-Curricular Activities
Good mental health habits and practices aren’t solely taught in the classroom. Sports teams, arts clubs, student volunteer organisations, and other co-curricular activities (CCAs) are extremely important avenues for promoting balanced growth among students. These activities create opportunities for healthy social interaction among peers, help students build their confidence and resilience, and allow them to explore non-academic interests in fulfilling and productive ways.
Empower Families to Address Mental Health Proactively
Naturally, parents should lead the charge in addressing their children’s well-being, and they also frequently serve as the primary (if not the only) liaison between school- and community-based mental health services. Because of the immense responsibility parenting entails, particularly when it comes to caring for children at risk, parents should be well-supported and empowered to make even the most difficult decisions with confidence.
It can be challenging to walk the line between respecting a parent’s role in their child’s life and giving them critical information about needed mental health services and resources. Nevertheless, teachers and counsellors must do their part to destigmatise mental illness and facilitate help-seeking when necessary. Parents and educators are encouraged to view each other as co-collaborators who operate at all times with students’ best interests at heart.
Psychological wellness is an absolute necessity for young people to thrive both in and out of school, and educators must thus take proactive steps to encourage good mental health. Because schools are major pillars in their students’ lives, they’re well-positioned to establish supportive systems and help all students get the care they need.
Our aim is to help our children discover their talents, realise their full potential, and develop a passion for life-long learning.