Mental health professionals to be linked with schools in the city

Mental health of the young has started to gain prominence in the last few years. To create access to help at the school-level, the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), citiesRISE and Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) have come together to build the capacity of mental health professionals and link them to schools in the city.

In a first step towards this, 32 psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric social workers are taking part in a two-day “Practice Transformation Workshop”. Though many schools still do not have counsellors, institutions are beginning to understand the importance of focussing on the mental health needs of students.

Helen Herrman, president of WPA, said there was a great need for early intervention at the school-level. “It is important for schools, mental health professionals and the system to come together. We have seen that a mentally healthy child can learn better, be happier at school and interact better with each others. All this produces better learning outcomes,” she said. She added that a whole-school approach to mental health was essential.

“We are working on youth mental health for more than five years, and this is a continuation of that effort. “Mental health problems in youth and adolescents are much higher in Tamil Nadu than many other States. This is top priority for us. We are building the capacity of mental health professionals, and our aim is to create a school mental health group in Chennai through which they can be liaised with schools to enhance mental health of the young. This will be an on-going process,” said R. Thara, vice chairperson of SCARF.

M. Suresh Kumar, technical lead, citiesRISE, said they were embarking on a whole-school approach by training teachers and parents, and constituting resilient teams to help children and provide low threshold intervention in a school setting. With a curriculum developed by SCARF, the mental health professionals are being trained on assessment and management of common mental health problems among schoolchildren. “Schoolchildren may have problems such as refusal to go to school, relationship dynamics within peers, academic pressures and distress due to family conflicts,” he said. Post-training, these professionals would be geographically linked to 30 schools — mostly Chennai Corporation schools. The resilient teams of schools would be linked with the mental health professionals, he mentioned.

One of the participants,Yamini Kannappan, consultant psychiatrist, Kauvery Hospitals, and said mental health of youth was one of the current challenges considering their vulnerability, high suicide rates and mental health problems. “We need a structured framework for school mental health interventions,” she said. Vimal, senior assistant professor, Department of Child Psychiatry, Institute of Child Health, said, “Till now, we have had the hospital-based approach and care. We need to go to the schools, identify issues early and treat in the school.”

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