Ms Michelle Chan
Face-to-face classes have resumed by phases after the special vacation and Easter holidays in April. We are delighted to see students returning to schools with their learning and social life gradually getting back on track. That said, some of them may be plagued by studies, family affairs or peer relationship at their early developmental stages, and should be handled prudently. Deeply saddened by the recent student suicide incidents, we appeal for cross-sectoral collaboration in strengthening our “gatekeeper” roles to protect our children.
Good interpersonal relationship is vital in the face of adversity
Parents are the key protectors of their children. Challenges and adversities at different developmental stages may cause children to feel distressed, helpless and hopeless. Studies have revealed that children with good social skills are more capable of building a close rapport with others and hence are more mentally prepared to face adversities. Parents should therefore help their children develop interpersonal skills through home activities like sharing, reading, playing games and role-playing, as well as letting them take part in group activities, so that they can learn to embrace anxiety and setbacks that are likely to occur during social interactions. We believe that for most parents, what they say or do are out of love for their children, though at times they may overlook the long-term impact caused by their behaviour and conversation. There are cases, in which parents notice that their children have mental health problems or self-harm behaviour but fail to inform the schools. As a result, treatment is delayed or there is a lack of support from schools which may aggravate emotions of the children or even lead to tragedies.
To help parents understand the warning signs of youth suicide as well as the protective factors, risk factors and support measures, the Education Bureau (EDB) has produced a fact sheet for parents (https://mentalhealth.edb.gov.hk/uploads/mh/content/resource/Prevent-youth-suicide_en.pdf). Parents are advised to read the useful information provided in the fact sheet from time to time so as to detect problems of their children earlier and provide timely support for them. Parents should seek professional support from schools and the community once they are aware of their children’s mental health problems or suicidal warning signs.
Enhancing parents’ skills as “gatekeepers”
To enhance parents’ skills as “gatekeepers” and help them identify and support their children’s mental health needs at an early stage, educational psychologists of the EDB, together with clinical psychologists and social workers from the Social Welfare Department, will organise two territory-wide online sharing sessions for parents of secondary and primary school students on 10 and 17 June respectively. Details of the sessions are available on the Mental Health@School website (mentalhealth.edb.gov.hk). Parents may also contact schools direct for more information. Following the online Parent Workshops on Gatekeeper Training for parents of upper primary and junior secondary students in March and May this year respectively, another round of online workshops will be held in July and October to enhance parents’ understanding of children’s mental health and strengthen support for their children. In addition to our pamphlets on depression, anxiety disorders, selective mutism and Tourette syndrome, a new series of pamphlets on mental illnesses, including psychosis, eating disorders and oppositional defiant disorder, have been uploaded onto the Mental Health@School website today (1 June) to help parents understand the symptoms of these mental illnesses, the follow-up actions that can be taken and the home-school support strategies in place.
Support for schools in promoting students’ mental health
To assist teachers in early identification of students with suicidal risks, the EDB is committed to providing gatekeeper training for teachers, which includes a 60-hour thematic course. To encourage schools to place greater emphasis on students’ mental health upon the phased resumption of face-to-face classes, two territory-wide online seminars were organised in April 2022, with some 1 600 principals, guidance teachers and school social workers from 690 primary and secondary schools attended. The handouts and videos of the seminars are available on the Mental Health@School website. Meanwhile, a new set of reference materials, which covers intervention strategies, case studies, etc., has been provided to school-based educational psychologists to facilitate their arrangement of relevant school-based workshops for teachers.
Upon resumption of face-to-face classes, schools are advised not to rush to catch up on the curriculum but to help students gradually adjust themselves to classroom learning. To strengthen students’ resilience, schools should provide them with training on social skills through different class-based and grade-based activities that will help them build friendship and develop a greater sense of connection and belonging.
Enhancing students’ understanding of mental health
We have launched the “Peer Power – Student Gatekeeper Training Programme” for secondary school students. Upon completion of the training, students having acquired the practical skills in caring for and dealing with peers in distress will be assigned as “peer leaders”. They will help organise different kinds of promotional activities in schools to boost the awareness and understanding of mental health among teachers and students. As at the 2021/22 school year, more than 500 students from 26 secondary schools have been assigned as “peer leaders”. School recruitment is now open for the Training Programme for the coming school year. In order to further raise students’ awareness and understanding of mental health literacy, we kicked off the “Start the Day Full of Energy” Slogan Design Competition for all Hong Kong secondary and primary school students in May. The competition closed on 31 May and a total of some 5 000 entries have been received.
With concerted efforts, let us create an environment in which children can thrive and take shelter from storms of life.
1 June 2022