In a bid to educate teachers on ways to tackle adolescents with mental health issues, the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) is embarking on a mental health first aid youth programme involving 100 secondary school counsellors in Kuala Lumpur.
The first session involving 25 teachers is at the National Council of Welfare and Social Development in Bandar Baru Sentul on Jan 14 and 15.
The remaining 75 teachers will undergo the two-day programme between February and April. The effort is funded by Petronita and supported by the Kuala Lumpur Education Department.
MMHA executive director Cheong Sue Jen said it was time to expose teachers to mental health first aid as they are the first responders in schools.
She added teachers will then be able to communicate the problems faced by the children to parents.
“The idea of going to schools came about following our previous projects at secondary schools. We had a 13-year-old who was diagnosed with clinical depression but could not have open communication with the parents,” said Cheong.
“We must look into the welfare of the teenagers. It is also important parents understand what the child is going through.”
“So we thought if school teachers are equipped with the right knowledge regarding mental health, they will be able to speak to the parents.”
Cheong said some school counsellors have admitted they were ill-equipped to handle mental health issues.
“These teachers are used to giving career guidance or which subjects to take.
“Also, with the increased use of social media and online bullying cases, teachers are eager to know how best to handle victims.”
Last year, a 16-year-old teenager committed suicide after falling from the third floor of a shop lot in Kuching (when) after she conducted a poll on Instagram to decide if she should kill herself.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye told the Dewan Rakyat last October that statistics showed the prevalence of suicide among those aged 13 to 17 rose to 10 per cent in 2017 compared with 7.9 per cent in 2012.
“We also realised youngsters are very active online but lack empathy in real life. These are challenges that teachers and parents face. We hope to assist them with our programme.
“We aim is to roll out this programme nationwide,” added Cheong.
MMHA also launched a Mental Health First Aid programme last October. Since then, five international companies with a presence in Malaysia have signed up.
The initiative is a licensed and evidence-based programme from Mental Health First Aid International, Australia. The 12-hour two-day programme is to improve the mental wellbeing and to support workers with mental health problems at the workplace.
Similar programmes are seen in at least 25 nations.
“We hope this initiative will enhance mental health literacy in Malaysia.
“Since the launch, we have had a good start but I really hope more local companies invest in our programme.
“We spend so much time in office and it is only natural for colleagues to be the first responders when dealing with those who suffer a mental breakdown,” Cheong added.
Last month, MMHA, Malaysian Psychiatrist Association and Pfizer Malaysia jointly launched ‘The Mental Health Handbook’. The handbook provides an overview of what mental illness is about, measures one can take when speaking to someone who has it and a directory of mental health services nationwide.
Those facing personal problems or contemplating suicide should contact the Befrienders at 05-547 7933 (Ipoh), 04-281 5161 (Penang) or 03-7956 8144 (Klang Valley) or The Mind Hub (Plaza TTDI, Kuala Lumpur) at 03-2780 6803.