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Training Teachers to be Mental Health “First Aiders”

Schools are often enjoyable places for children to develop and learn, but they can also be very stressful environments particularly around exam time.

This is particularly the case in Vietnam where parents have high expectations of excellent performance in tests. Such pressure can contribute to mental illness, which often first manifests itself in adolescence. It is estimated that up to 20% of pupils may be affected by some form of mental illness whilst at school. This can lead to poor school attainment, higher risk of substance abuse, poor behavior and possibly even dropping out or being expelled from school. However, teachers often do not have the skills to recognise and support pupils affected by conditions such as anxiety, depression, and behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

MCNV is taking action on this issue through its innovative “Mental Health in Schools” program that has been developed in collaboration with Danang Psychiatric Hospital. During October, teachers at Vinh Linh high school in Quang Tri, gained skills in how to recognise and support students with mental health problems. These Mental Health First Aider courses also provided teachers with a basic background in psychotherapy techniques such a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), provided practice in using simple screening tools such as the Skills and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ), and when and how to refer pupils with mental health problems to other appropriate services.

The program has also helped Heads of Departments to develop an action plan for tackling mental health issues within the school. Group discussions and quizzes conducted with pupils have increased their awareness of the issue and enabled them to conduct activities with their peers about mental health. Ms. T. Nu Dieu Tran (a mathematics teacher) shared that the skills she has learnt are not only useful at school but have also helped her to communicate with her own children.

MCNV is delighted with the success of this program and is keen to share the experience of the program with other stakeholders to help scale-up the scheme, so that many more schools can have Mental Health First Aiders in their schools to make them healthy, nurturing and happy environments for learning.