Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide Training for Staff working in Government Schools

Mental health literacy is defined as increasing knowledge on mental health and mental disorders, correcting misconceptions and reducing stigma, as well as having help-seeking attitudes, that is the willingness to seek help. This allows one to make informed decisions about his/ her own mental health care.

Following the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide training delivered in May 2019, a second training has been organised by the Ministry of Education for government staff. In 2019, Dr Emma Saliba, higher specialist psychiatric trainee, together with Dr Nigel Camilleri, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, worked with the Ministry of Education to bring Professor Kutcher to Malta.

Professor Kutcher is an international renowned expert on child and adolescent mental health and one of the ex-directors of the World Health Organisation. He designed the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide to increase school-based mental health literacy. This Guide has been taken up by 12 other countries, including the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.

During October, 27 government employees within the Education Department received mental health literacy training. The group consisted of Education Officers, school counsellors and guidance teachers. The interactive training comprised powerpoint presentations, classroom exercises, videos and group discussions.

Ms Catherine Vassallo, President of the Mental Health Association (MHA), helped facilitate communication between the Ministry of Education and Dr Emma Saliba, for the organisation and delivery of the training.

The aims of the training are two-fold: to train educators to identify students who are likely to be suffering from a mental disorder to seek help and support. As highlighted during the training, the earlier a student suffering from a mental disorder is identified, the earlier the student can receive professional help and a positive outcome is more likely.

The second aim is to provide adolescents with a better understanding of mental health and mental disorders as well as advice on how to obtain and maintain positive mental health. This serves to reduce the chances of students developing a mental disorder.

The training consists of a mental health curriculum comprising six modules: stigma of mental illness, understanding mental health and mental illness, information about specific mental illnesses, experiences of mental illness, seeking help and finding support, the importance of positive mental health.

The training highlights different states of mental health. Stress can be positive and an opportunity for growth. The way we portray and interpret stress can have a significant impact on the way adolescents regard stress. Encouraging and supporting students in facing positive stress can lead to learning new skills, adaptation, and building resilience.

The importance of using the right language was also discussed. Finally, the need for physical exercise, healthy eating, music, art, drama, hobbies and supportive relationships in obtaining and maintaining positive mental health was highlighted.

Participant feedback was very positive with participants describing the training as informative, interesting and a useful tool for working with students.

Internationally, 15-20% of the population suffer from a mental disorder, including bipolar affective disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and others. 70% of all mental disorders arise between 12 and 25 years of age. Hence, we need to focus on adolescents’ mental health as it is in this age group that mental disorders may start to develop. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on everyone’s mental health, including adolescents.

The Ministry of Education together with the Mental Health Association demonstrated an excellent initiative in organising this training and in collaborating with Dr Emma Saliba for its delivery.

Author: Dr Emma Saliba MD, MRCPsych (UK)