(Ireland) "Ever growing demand" for student mental health services

Sept 10, 2018, Irish Examiner: Schools need to teach pupils skills to maintain good mental health – here's how Schools are often where children’s and adolescents’ mental health problems are identified, writes Dusana Dorjee. While there is ever growing demand for mental health support for pupils, such as in-school counselling and mentoring, the focus now – just like for any health problem – should be more on prevention than intervention. Prevention makes sense financially, given that specialist mental health services for children and adolescents are currently overloaded, with long waiting lists. … So how could schools effectively contribute to mental health prevention? To answer this question, we first need to be clear on what mental health prevention should focus on. In recent years, “resilience” has been frequently emphasised as central to mental health. But there are disagreements about what resilience means and how to measure it. … Importantly, strengthening metacognitive self-regulation and having a positive sense of meaning/purpose in life is not only central to well-being but can also enhance academic performance. For example, chronically increased levels of stress associated with unhealthy sleep patterns and excessive anxiety can interfere with learning and negatively impact on exam performance. So self-regulating effectively will have a ripple effect on academic achievement. Similarly, having a clear purpose, such as wanting to make a positive difference or compassionately care for others, can strongly motivate a pupil’s learning…. Teaching such a curriculum will require somewhat radical changes to teacher education, however. It will also mean greater emphasis on teacher well-being – chronically stressed teachers who are unwell themselves are unlikely to be able to effectively deliver such lessons. Policy guidelines and school curricula will need changing, too. It may seem like a lot to ask from an education system which is greatly stretched as is, but it might be the best investment we can make as a society.