World Mental Health Day
On October 10, 2016, World Mental Health Day was acknowledged globally. Awareness is increasing and people are positively responding to other’s symptoms and needs, channels of help and support are more profound.
At YCIS we value our student support services and the professionals at the heart of student welfare. Lesley Cooke, Team Leader for our Counseling and Learning Support Team (CALST) recently shared her insights to the matter regarding students in today’s environment.
What initiatives are you implementing in the school to improve the mental wellbeing of students?
Our focus this year is on a caring community and resilience. We aim to offer all our students the chance to meet with a counselor or concerned adult whenever they are in need. We introduce ourselves at the start of the year and continue to make our presence known as the year progresses, holding ‘Welcome’ parties to facilitate friendships and ‘putting a face’ to the term ‘counselors’. We keep very simple posters in washrooms which remind students to ‘talk to someone’ about the things which worry them.
Form tutors and teachers are reminded regularly to watch out for signs of distress and to pass on anything they find worrying. We would rather have ‘false alarms’ than have a student suffer unnoticed.
What can parents do to help?
Nothing can replace the physical presence of a parent. The Hong Kong lifestyle does not always allow parents to spend large amounts of time with their children and, as they mature, they themselves do not always want mum and dad around, but time needs to be spent making connections. These connections help young people to establish their own values and belief system, they allow for testing and exploring ideas and they provide a safe haven for youngsters when times get tough. No teenager wants to sit down with mum or dad for ‘a chat’, but they may happily ‘chat’ when engaged in a common task, as a slight distraction. In our world of domestic helpers, parents and children often don’t do the small tasks that keep hands busy and allow for reflection on the day. A shared activity is the best way to connect with young people and for that, parents need to be around and available! In short, be ready to be there for them!
Parental expectation can be very hard for children. Whilst we expect effort and ask our children to try their best, often parents have goals for children, which are not shared by their children. If you have a child who is passionate about Literature and English, but you want them to be a dentist, there will be conflict and stress felt. At times, parents need to nurture the child they have, not the child they seek to form.
Is counseling worthwhile or medication?
For some young people, medication is very helpful. If a child has seen a medical professional and prescribes anti-anxiety medication, for example, this should be discussed carefully and shared with the school. I know many parents resist medication, but some students really find that they cope better with a situation for a period, with such help.
A number of children gain great benefit from counseling and find that the strategies they learn help them to cope with the issues they are facing. At times, a combination of both medication and counseling is the best way forward.
What would you like to see improved in schools to tackle the issue of mental health?
Mental health issues are surfacing in much younger children now, even primary schools need to be aware of the pressure children can feel.
There is a very fine line between pressure and stress.
Commonly parents want their child to achieve high scores and be successful in a highly competitive world. Schools seek students to sit for public examinations and gain high-grade certificates. Given that this pressure is unlikely to go away, schools need to equip students with ways to relax and refocus when needed.
We also need to teach children to be resilient. They will not always be top of the class, win the prize or get an ‘A’. Sometimes we all fail. We need to teach children to see failures as learning experiences and show them that there are alternate paths to the same goal. The skills to “bounce back”, keep going, keep trying - ultimately avoid stress to build-up. At any age of schooling these skills can commence early, and by reinforcing them constantly, as the child grows, remains the best protection and road to balanced success.