We have written a great deal about the importance of safeguarding mental health, especially among Hong Kong's teens. However, new research indicates that problems begin at a far younger age - as such, we need to be doing more for primary school students.
Many teachers might already feel confident in their ability to recognize significant issues, including bullying, behavioral challenges or problems in the home. Yet the world can be a stressful place for children, even under ordinary circumstances.
According to the NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, in the UK, as many as one in 10 children (or three in every classroom), have diagnosable mental health problems, and 75 percent of mental health problems in adults have roots in childhood (youngminds.org.uk/find- help/your-guide-to-support/guide-to- camhs/). While it can be dangerous to overdiagnose, creating space for students to talk or develop resilience for the challenges of adulthood is always a good thing. Programs that help students take responsibility for their emotions, behavior and learning create young people who re-engage with education, perform well and grow into happy and confident individuals.
In the UK, one charity, Place2Be (www.place2be.org.uk/) works with 282 schools, offering drop-in sessions in designated school spaces, where a trained counsellor is available if youngsters need one-to-one counselling, play therapy, or just a chance to chat.
The charity provides early intervention support for troubled youngsters with the aim of averting more substantial problems at a later age.
The Art Room (www.theartroom.org.uk/) also works with five- to 16-year-olds in schools, using art therapy to boost self-esteem, confidence and independence for more than 500 students a week.
Kaleidoscope Color Therapy is also popular. The approach involves seven stages (relax, visualize, express, move, build, explore, affirm) and helps to build self-esteem and confidence through activities that use sound, aroma, color, light and natural materials. The program also uses eight colors, which have significance and meaning.
But what can teachers in Hong Kong do, where there isn't always access to such charity partnerships?
The government does offer some advice on mental health (www.gov.hk/en/residents/health/mental/mentalhealth.htm), including resources for mental health education. However, the only target program for youths at the moment is the EASY Programme, or Early Assessment Service for Young People with Early Psychosis (www3.ha.org.hk/easy/eng/service.html), but even this service is not designed for those below 15.
The Mental Health Association of Hong Kong (www.mhahk.org.hk/eng/) lists a wide range of services on its website, including a 24-hour phone line with counselling and local volunteer services.
Welcoming some of these approaches into the classroom would go some way to easing the stigma of mental illness in Hong Kong, which for many should be a first step.
© 晉博教育中心 Brighten Youth Education Centre