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It is OK to make mistakes

Fred Wesley
Wednesday, September 02, 2015

YOUTH Champs 4 Mental Health president Lionel Rogers and psychiatrist Selina Kuruleca reckon there is a need for independent professional counsellors in schools.

Having worked tirelessly through non-government organisations to create awareness programs for suicide prevention and mental illness, they insist a week training retired teachers to be counsellors in schools is not effective.

Their comments come in the wake of the death of a student and the fact that two others remain in critical condition following a group suicide attempt.

Police say the three feared failing their exams.

Minister for Education Mahendra Reddy is adamant that all teachers are counsellors and are trained to handle situations with mental stress and depression in children.

"Every teacher is supposed to be a counsellor. We just can't afford to appoint 950 counsellors in each of those schools," Mr Reddy said.

Ms Kuruleca, however, maintains there is a need to place professional counsellors in schools who are not teachers or school chaplains.

She believes the recent events will place pressure on the education system to take on a more proactive role.

That means putting professionals in schools, getting consultants on board, and preparing schools.

"For us to say that children will not do this (contemplate suicide), we're lying." She insists there is a need for professional counsellors who are not teachers, not school chaplains, and who are people schools can access and "it is absolutely critical that this be put into schools now".

There are two opposing lines of thought at play here.

Will it then help if a survey is done to appreciate the various scenarios that exist in our school system now, specifically those related to stress and suicidal thoughts among our young children?

Clearly the over-riding factor here is the need to quickly accept that we do have young children already developing suicidal thoughts. The next step then is how do we address this? Would extra training for teachers be sufficient?

Or do we need qualified counsellors in the school system? Do we have the support systems in place to effectively deal with suicidal thoughts? Is the education system the right one for our young children?

The revelation by Ms Kuruleca that she had warned the ministry to expect an increase in mental health related issues after the announcement of reinstating examinations is interesting.

Is our education system overly demanding? Is it placing too much pressure on parents and children?

Perhaps we should also relook at our priorities on the home front and play a proactive role in instilling confidence in our young charges.

As Mr Rogers said, it is important for children to know that it is "okay" to make mistakes.

Understanding the problems we have is the first step to improving. All will be in vain though unless students are convinced to come forward with their problems.

This issue won't solve itself, but an organised effort and great awareness can do wonders.

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