In today’s fast-paced world, the importance of mental health and well-being, especially for students, cannot be overemphasised. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 10-20 percent of adolescents worldwide experience mental health challenges, often without receiving a proper diagnosis or adequate treatment.
With the growing global integration and the hectic pace of modern life, students face a unique set of challenges. Academic expectations the challenges inherent in social interactions, and the complexities of a fast-paced world have made it crucial that mental health issues that students encounter are dealt with promptly and appropriately.
This article delves into the complex landscape of mental health, exploring its significance and its impact on students. It also sheds light on the ways in which international schools are actively involved in safeguarding their students’ mental health, through the use of specific strategies and initiatives.
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What is mental health? Why is it important?
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health is a state of psychological well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn and work well and contribute to their community.
Mental health is important because it influences various aspects of an individual’s life, from their emotional well-being and relationships to their cognitive abilities and overall happiness. By valuing and supporting mental health, individuals and society as a whole can reap numerous benefits that result in a healthier, more fulfilling life.
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Impacting Factors of Mental Health
The environment in which children grow, learn and interact significantly influences their mental health and overall development. Some key factors that impact a child’s mental health and well-being include the following:
1. Family environment
Family is the primary source of support and nurturing for a child. A stable and loving family environment provides a strong foundation for mental health. Positive parent-child relationships, effective communication and emotional support play a vital role in shaping a child’s self-esteem and emotional resilience.
2. Peer relationships
Interactions with peers contribute significantly to a child’s social and emotional development. Positive peer relationships foster a sense of belonging, companionship and shared experiences. Healthy friendships provide emotional support, boost self-confidence and help children learn valuable social skills.
3. School environment
The school environment, including teachers, classmates and school culture have a substantial impact on a child’s mental health. Factors such as having supportive teachers, a safe learning atmosphere and anti-bullying initiatives contribute to a positive school experience. Academic pressures and experiences of bullying can negatively affect a child’s mental health if not appropriately addressed.
4. Cultural and societal influences
Cultural norms, societal expectations and media portrayals can influence a child’s perception of themselves and the world around them. Cultural acceptance, exposure to diversity and critical media literacy contribute to a child’s self-esteem and body image. If a child does not know how to filter what is portrayed online or around them, the impact can be hard to reverse.
5. Life experiences and trauma
Life experiences, including traumatic events or significant life changes, can have lasting effects on a child’s mental health. Support and coping mechanisms are essential in helping children navigate these challenges and develop resilience.
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Reasons for Safeguarding Mental Health
Ensuring mental health, especially in children, is of paramount importance for several reasons:
1. Foundation of Lifelong Well-being
Childhood experiences significantly shape a person’s lifelong mental health. Nurturing mental health in childhood lays a strong foundation for emotional resilience and overall well-being throughout life.
2. Academic Success
Good mental health is closely linked to academic achievement. Children with positive mental health are better equipped to focus, learn and excel in their studies.
3. Healthy Relationships
Developing healthy interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence in childhood is crucial for forming and maintaining positive relationships in adult life. Children with strong mental health are more likely to build healthy and fulfilling relationships
4. Emotional Resilience
Mental health support in childhood helps children develop emotional resilience, allowing them to cope effectively with life’s challenges, setbacks and stresses
5. Reduction of Stigma
Prioritising children’s mental health fosters a culture of openness and acceptance, reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues. This encourages children to seek help when needed without fear of judgment.
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Mental Health Support at International Schools
Education Destination Malaysia conducted a survey aimed at gaining insight into the practices of international schools. Here are some of the forms of mental health and well-being support provided by international schools.
1. Counselling support
Counselling support within international schools is a fundamental pillar of the institution’s commitment to the well-being of its students. Typically consisting of a dedicated team of qualified and experienced counsellors and psychiatrists, students can approach any of these professionals in a safe and confidential environment to seek help for a wide range of concerns, including academic stress, personal issues, emotional challenges or other mental health issues.
2. Talks to Generate Awareness
International schools frequently invite representatives from clinics and hospitals to conduct talks to generate awareness on various mental health and well-being issues. The representatives are often mental health professionals or experts in related fields sharing their insights on topics such as stress management, mindfulness and more. These talks serve as a platform for students to gain valuable knowledge, ask questions and engage in open discussions with experts about their mental well-being.
3. Pastoral care department
The pastoral care department has a specialized team within the school responsible for providing holistic support to students. Pastoral Care team help students process, acquire and apply knowledge and skills to establish and maintain healthy relationships, work toward and achieve their goals, manage their emotions, develop healthy identities and make responsible decisions. They work as encouragers and advocates for students as they grow, learn and make the transition from one stage to the next. Pastoral Care Coordinators also work in collaboration with parents, teachers, administrators and other staff to provide holistic support for students.
Some international schools hold weekly Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE) classes for their students. These classes are often conducted by the pastoral team, counsellors or psychiatrists. These classes help students develop a comprehensive understanding of various aspects of personal and social well-being.
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The importance of mental health and well-being in the lives of students cannot be overstated. In a world filled with unique challenges and pressures, nurturing the mental and emotional resilience of young minds is essential. Both schools and parents must play their part in helping students develop the skills and support systems necessary to navigate these challenges effectively. By fostering a culture that prioritises mental health, we create a safe and nurturing environment for students to learn, grow and thrive.
Education Destination Malaysia would like to thank the following for responding to the survey on mental health and well-being support at international schools:
• Frances Tan, Deputy Principal, Lodge International School
• Bekah Dawson, Director of School Advancement, Oasis International School
• Ellis Lee, CEO, Maple Leaf Kingsley International School
• Mark Lankester, CEO, Epsom College Malaysia
• Fairus Zani, Marketing Executive, Charterhouse Malaysia
• Evelyn Lee, Head of Marketing and Communication, Methodist Council of Education
• Joey Thum, Senior Admissions Executive, Seri Botani International School
• Samuel Kang, Director, Stellar International School
• Anne Dickinson, Head of Admissions and Marketing, Jerudong International School
• Nur Sakinah Diyanah Binti Abdullah, Digital Lead and Advancement Manager, The International School of Kuala Lumpur
• Wong Sin Yi, Marketing and Admissions Manager, Sri KDU Schools
• Rexanne Lew, Registrar, Repton International School
• Rao, Sales and Marketing, Acmar International & Private School
• Gavin Hardie, Senior Services Manager, elc International School
• Sujitha Sureyakumaran, Digital Marketing and Communication Executive, St. John’s International School
• Izyanti Amalini, Manager, Marketing & Communications, Australian International School Malaysia