It’s time to introduce mental health education in schools

By Raymond Anthony Fernando

Apart from climbing suicide rates, there has also been a rise in the number of persons grappling with mental health issues here in Singapore.

In the report in the Sunday Times “Breaking the silence on suicide” (Sunday, February 24, 2019), Ms Elaine Lek spoke about how she tragically lost her young son to suicide in October last year. She asked why sex education can be taught in schools, yet the topic of mental illness was hardly being broached.

Research has revealed that 90 percent of people afflicted with mental disorders begin to develop symptoms during their teenage years.

In addition, 13 percent of children under the age of 18 suffer from several mental conditions such as anxiety attacks, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Disruptive Behavior Disorders (DBD).

Society has to learn to accept that mental illness will be part of an increasing complex urban lifestyle. But the good news is that like any other ailment, most mental illnesses can be controlled and managed. With love, understanding and early medical intervention, it is possible for many mentally ill persons to lead perfectly normal lives.

Bottom line: We need to manage mental illness, before it manages us.

I therefore strongly concur with Ms Lek's suggestion: there is indeed a dire and urgent need to incorporate mental health education into the mainstream school curriculum as well.

No government in the world can solve all problems and that is why ordinary folks need to chip in to play their part in fostering healthy, sound relationships - at work, home and within the community at large.

Although in the U.S. mental health education is still pretty much in the experimental stages, the good news is that in a few selected state-run schools, the results achieved thus far are rather promising and we can certainly be inspired to pursue a similar path of implementation.

Part of the education revolving around mental health can possibly be dedicated to featuring stories of persons with mental health conditions who have successfully turned their lives around. Another scenario which sees doctors, patients and caregivers providing first-hand insights into their personal battles with inner demons can prove most useful to students and even their parents. Additionally, teachers who are under tremendous pressure themselves (to ensure their students perform well academically) will benefit from such heartfelt sharing.

I am sure with the right mindsets, we can thoroughly eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and raise public greater awareness

That said, I urge the Ministry of Education (MOE) to kick-start mental health education in a few selected schools as a pilot project; when significantly positive outcomes arise, it could therefore consider taking things to the next level by introducing a nationwide mandatory mental health curriculum.

This was reproduced with permission from editors of TR Emeritus.


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