Mental health is in our school books, time to take it seriously

When I was in school, the thing I’d look forward to every week was physical education, commonly referred to as PJPK (Pendidikan Jasmani Dan Pendidikan Kesihatan).

For me, PJPK meant I could go play football with my friends.

In our previous #LuarBIASA forum, the topic of implementing mental health literacy in the syllabus of students from a young age was mentioned by one of the speakers, Kerby Ng.

We decided to look at it and how countries around us dealt with improving mental health literacy in students and what each country supplies in terms of support for mental health.

It would be easier and more effective to incorporate mental health topics than to create a new subject altogether. Thus, we decided to look into the current syllabus of PJPK as that would be a great place to insert mental health education for students.

It came as a shock to me that PJPK covered not only physical health but mental health too.

It was a shocker because I had never opened my PJPK book to find out what was in it. All I wanted to do was to go out of the classroom and play.

We asked a teacher and found out that it wasn’t just surface-level stuff. Chapters on mental health taught kids to understand the whys and hows of mental health and where to get help. Essentially, it taught ways to recognise mental health issues faced within or beyond schools.

So, if mental health education has been implemented into students’ syllabus, why then is mental health literacy so low among the masses?

Well for one, when I was a student, I never opened my PJPK book to even read it. All I wanted from PJPK was 30 minutes where I could play ball with my classmates and forget the worries of being a student. It wasn’t a period to sit down and learn.

Another reason? PJPK teachers weren’t well-versed and trained in the subject.

When I was still in school, from what I gathered from my own teachers, they had to teach subjects that they were assigned to. Imagine doing your degree in teaching Bahasa Melayu but then being asked to teach PJPK, a subject you have no expertise in because there weren’t enough qualified teachers.

This is not a jab at the teachers themselves but the lack of resources is evident.

The issue at hand is not that mental health is not included in the syllabus, but the execution and implementation of it.

One way is to train more PJPK teachers who are passionate and knowledgeable about the subject which will help the delivery of the mental health literacy syllabus.

Looking at our neighbours across the causeway, teachers there undergo comprehensive training regarding mental health compared to other Southeast Asian countries. It must be noted that Singapore is a smaller country and thus resources are more centralised and easier to implement compared to a bigger country like Malaysia.

In Malaysia, each primary school would have one counsellor for every 350-800 students and one counsellor for every 500 students in secondary school. That is a lot of students that one person is responsible for, and there will definitely be some who will slip under the radar.

It is great that we provide these services to the students, but in my experience, students rarely make the first step and engage with the school counsellor. They are usually referred to by teachers and even then, the students don’t buy into the process.

Equipping students with mental health literacy would be one way to help with this lack of counsellors and support.

Mind Gap and Twentytwo13 are collaborating in the #LuarBIASA campaign. This news website has made a commitment to educate the masses about mental health.

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