Importance of implementing School-wide Mental Health Programs.

Often when we say School mental health, the most common image that may come to our mind may be that of a school counsellor or a career counsellor sitting in their rooms giving one to one counselling sessions to a student or their parents or organising workshops to create aware-ness around child and adolescent mental health and enhancing academic perfor-mance. This is definitely something that a School mental health program would cover but there’s much more to it. Because most children spend much of their time at school, it offers an opportu-nity to reach many children with mental-health-related prevention, resilience and early identification initiatives. Data from across the globe say that most psychiatric or psychological issues start early in life and that almost 90 percent of people who do develop a mental illness, show some form of warning signs in the adolescent years.

In addition to addressing high-risk students with poor academic performance, gifted students or those with behavioural concerns, the focus is also needed on enhancing “normality”. Enhancing normality refers to helping these young mouldable minds equip themselves with positive coping skills as well as build resilience to cope with a wide variety of stressors they may be encountering in their daily lives or in the future.

Looking at the needs of this wide range of child and adolescent population, an ideal School mental health program would be one with multidisciplinary participation from educators, school and clinical psy-chologists, special educators, occupation-al therapists and representation from the school administration and parents. Such a program would be most effective when provided through a multitier system of professional support, which in turn would ensure coverage of a range of concerns by enabling schools to promote mental wellness for all students by aiding early identification, and providing increasingly intensive, efficacy based services for indi-vidual students as needed which would help manage any problems before the children grow or the problem becoming chronic.

Most of these programs are based on values or mental health-related content which is provided to the students in specific daily or weekly sessions over a period of weeks or over the entire school year. And if there is a referral, for a behavioural or an academic concern, a special educator or a psychologist attends to it.

In my learnings from the field in past 15 years, for a school mental program to be successful in creating the desired impact and reaching the end goal of creating ‘positive mental health’ for all of its students, it is essential that a School mental health program is tailored to fit the needs of a school. School mental health programs are aimed at assisting students but the needs assessment of such a program involves all the stakeholders in a child’s life – parents, teachers and the management. A need assessment should be conducted keeping in mind the wide variety of socio-economic as well as cultural backgrounds the school students come from, if there are students that have single parents or those coming from joint versus nuclear families. It’s then important to know if there any students with special needs or any other existing psychological concerns like learning difficulties or ADHD. Another important area to be assessed is the readiness of the management and teachers to become a part of this program and their willingness to learn more about the identification of any mental health issues and the management of the multiple intelligence needs that their classroom brings to them.

This may sound like a tedious and long process but once these hurdles are crossed, it will help in successfully implementing a focussed School mental health program. Interventions then selected post this implementation would not be based on trial and error but efficacy based interventions which could be then selected for concerns that stand out post the completion of the needs assessment.

I end this piece here by quoting Laura Weaver and Mark Wilding “When students feel safe and supported, they are truly ready and able to learn”. So let’s make this School mental health movement a success by putting in more efforts in making it more tailored to the needs of those whom we would cater to rather than trying to implement something that may not fit the individuals we wish to serve.

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