Latest developments are pointing to the fact that there is a dire need to include Mental Wellbeing into the school curriculum and Guidance and Counseling services in these schools
By Tunde Niyi-Akinmade
When Victor Ugo, a Medical Student, suffered depression he was struck by the lack of the lack of mental health support and professional services in Nigeria to take him through this ordeal.
In response, he launched Mani in 2016 to drive change by raising awareness and dispelling stigmas that exist around mental health issues in Nigeria. His main target audience: the youth.
“Culturally, young people are not allowed to speak up.
“You have to listen; respect is really crucial. If I need help, I ask my parents and they decide if I need help,” he said.
In line with this belief, Mani makes use of the social media a lot to reach its target. And the success has been tremendous.
In 2017, Mani launched a WhatsApp service and now has a Mental Training programme for schools in lagos. The programme includes a series of “mental health clubs” where students are taught about coping mechanisms, the effects of bullying and consent workshops.
Mani also trains teachers and parents on children’s mental health.
The Mani service has grown beyond Ugo’s expectation partly because of his resolve to promote mental health education in Nigeria and also because there is a lot of Nigerians, especially the youth desperately in need of the service.
The suicide rate across the campuses has grown alarmingly in the last 12 months. This many say is a clear pointer to this fact.
What is Mental Heath Education?
To the experts, Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness, it s a state of wellbeing where people can meet their learning potential, cope with normal stresses, and are connected to community and their friends
Hence, the strong case that mental health and wellbeing should be vigorously promoted in schools.
Moreso, experts believe that in most people, mental health issues emerge when they are young. Statistics show that half of all mental disorders emerge between the ages of 14 and 25 years, the age range of most students in Nigeria.
So introduction of mental health and wellbeing in all levels of our schools will increased students to cope with their education and lifes.
The major advantages of this also include helping the students to flourish in their education path; help them build resilience against adversity; make them develop protective factors from mental ill-health; and provide them with skills and confidence to self-seek help for early intervention.
However, some also believe that the promotion of mental health and wellbeing in schools should not be limited to focus on the students alone.
Teachers need healthy minds too, as a negative frame of mind can impact negatively on the learning and teaching process. They might end up not planning the teaching notes well, lack creativity in teaching, neglect critical tasks and interact less with the students and fellow colleagues, if their mental wellbeing is threatened.
Professor Jonathan Glazzard, Head of Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools at Leeds Beckett University, UK, warns that teachers sometimes are affected more with the control and supervision in the system than their workload.
Because teachers are usually better placed to first recognise the mental health difficulty of their students than anyone else, it is essential that teachers are top fit in this direction.
Teachers can immediately discuss their observations with colleagues who might voice out their own observations for the bigger picture to quickly emerge for actions to be taken on behalf of the affected student.
Mental Health education is a whole school approach which involves every stakeholder in the system, including schools managers, teachers, other staff and parents.
- The main goals should be :
- providing social and emotional skills programs
- providing timely support for those with additional needs
- involving students and families in decision-making.
- Resilience building for students
- Resilience is the ability to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity. It is a skill that can be developed through:
- positive social connections
- safe environments
- life skills such as positive coping and problem solving skills
- pro-social values
- positive self-regard
- and a sense of purpose and agency or responsibility.
- Building staff capacity to promote and protect mental health
The Curriculum should support the teaching of mental health, wellbeing and resilience of all students in schools through the learning areas.
Mental health education should also support emergencies so that quick intervention can be given as at when needed. This can only be possible if those close by are quick to recognise what is happening and are equip to act.
The school authorities should be conscious of the importance of cultivating an environment that benefits and nurtures the mental health of students, teachers and other staff.
If both students and teachers are more open in discussing issues about and around mental health, issues will also be easier to identify early on, and this will help to build students’ knowledge and understanding of the subject.
Conscious efforts should be made to make schools a safe haven for students. Students will do better in schools when they feel safe. Making the school safer include reducing the incidents of bullying to the lowest.
The mental health education programme should be strategically organised with a well defined curriculum, tasks and responsibilities well defined and assigned. Everyone only works together and communicates on issues.
This can also include having staff as mentors for vulnerable students, peer mentoring, where children are partnered up with older children who can look out for them.
Running extracurricular social activities for pupils has also been shown to help have a positive impact on students, by providing a space for them to work through their emotions and develop strategies to address their challenges.
There is a shortage of child and adolescent mental health (CAMH) professionals all over the world, this is even more pronounced in Nigeria.
This bleak situation is compounded by the fact that most Nigerian teachers do not have fromal training on mental health education.
So the incorporation of the mental health education into the curriculum should start with the teacher education curricula.