Health and Well-Being Programme in schools to address students’ mental health issues

To address mental health issues and abuse of substances among students, a health and well-being programme is being implemented in high schools across the country. School guidance counsellors and well-being focal teachers in close to 80 higher secondary schools in all 20 districts and four thromdes have been oriented on issues related to mental health and substance abuse. The programme, which started around May this year, was initiated by The PEMA Secretariat in collaboration with the education department.

According to the PEMA Secretariat, apart from counsellors and well-being focal teachers, District Education Officers, Thromde Education Officers, and Principals in all districts were sensitized on Health and Wellbeing Screening and School-based Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Care.

“In the first phase in June, we completed training around 600 teachers in 13 districts. The second phase started with the rest of the Districts in August this year. And at the end of this PD training rollout, we’re going to have well-being focal teachers in all schools who would at least be able to identify early identification and self-referral of students who are going through difficult situations,” said Reena Thapa, the Chief Counselor with the Education Programmes Department.

As part of the programme Class XI and XII students across the country were also screened for mental health and substance use disorders.

Such screening is supposed to detect students with mental health issues so that the counsellors or well-being focal teachers can intervene and give referral services.

The initiative targeted to screen at least 16 thousand students across the country.

“Now we have specific questions on mental health issues. For example, for depression, we have a different set of questions. For anxiety, we have a different set of questions. And for adverse childhood experiences, we have different sets of questions. After identifying the students, we invite the students to our session, we call it the individual session. Thereafter, if we think it is beyond our ability or capacity we refer to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral,” said Ganesh Bahadur Samal, a school counsellor with Motithang Higher Secondary School.

Moreover, through the health and well-being initiative, schools are also able to strengthen the peer helpers programme where students help their peers battling mental health conditions.

The peer helpers programme provides alternative options for vulnerable students who are not able to approach counsellors.

Reena Thapa said, “now from this year, after we roll up this PD training to the rest of the schools, we are expecting all schools to have peer helpers programme, where a number of students will be trained as peer helpers. They will help identify issues and difficulties that their friends are going through. Then, they reach out to the counsellor or the well-being focal teacher and make references.”

“Teachers teach us about the different types of mental health issues and how to prevent it as well as deal with it. Not only that, there are peer helpers like us who are provided with different kinds of training. For example, training such as “I support my friend” and “helping skills” teach us how to help our friends who are struggling,” said Damchoe Norbu, a peer helper.

“Students are more approachable to us, peer helpers compared to the teacher and counsellors. We are their friends so they feel more comfortable talking with us. I have noticed, students really don’t need solutions to their problems. They just want someone to sit with them and listen to their problems. They just want to talk and share. If the students need real help in person, they tend to approach counsellors and teachers,” said Kelden Wangmo, a peer helper.

Officials from the Education and Skills Development ministry added that the initiative also includes mentor-mentee and spiritual programmes to ensure mental health.

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