Singapore

Mental health tips now part of secondary school curriculum

Refreshed character and citizenship education lessons tackle issues like stress, emphasise peer support

Facing his Secondary 2 class of 35 students, Mr Michael Chow shared his personal setbacks since he was young, from family problems to having to scale back on sports when he tore a ligament in his right knee.

The 38-year-old Serangoon Secondary School form teacher weaved his experiences into a character and citizenship education (CCE) lesson yesterday to illustrate the importance of recognising stress and finding ways to cope.

From this year, mental health education has been included in the refreshed CCE curriculum for secondary schools, along with a greater emphasis on peer support.

These plans were announced as part of last year's debate on the Education Ministry's budget.

Minister of State for Education Sun Xueling, who joined yesterday's class, said the increased focus on mental health in schools is timely, given the challenges the Covid-19 pandemic may have brought about to students.

"Some of them may feel isolated or may be facing problems in the family at home," she said.

"Nowadays, more young people are using social media, and they may feel they have to present a certain front to keep up with their friends on social media, and that can bring about stress."

Ms Sun added: "Through our CCE classes, students learn it is actually okay to not feel okay, and that they can talk to their friends, teachers, counsellors.

"I appreciate the fact that our specially trained CCE teachers also open up about themselves as adults to their students, and (this) encourages sharing of experiences."

Agreeing, Mr Chow said: "Don't think that your teachers are perfect. We have our own experiences too, but we have learnt to deal with setbacks."

Yesterday's session, which the media was invited to observe, was the first in a series on mental health at Serangoon Secondary.

VIDEO CLIPS

In class, the students watched video clips on scenarios of teens facing various pressures such as schoolwork or negative thoughts, and different coping strategies.

They discussed how to identify stress, when such feelings might become overwhelming and turn into distress, as well as how to seek help in such situations.

Mr Chow, a specialised CCE teacher, said: "When students respond to scenarios, we can roughly deduce that they are facing certain issues at home or in school."

Serangoon Secondary also started peer support training last year. It now has 26 dedicated peer support leaders - one per class - and aims to increase it to two per class next year. Student and co-curricular activity leaders are sent for training.

Ms Moritza Lim, the school's subject head for student well-being, said: "We equip them with strategies to know how to spot friends in distress, how to listen actively to them and channel any needs to teachers.

"We tell them, 'You are the first line of support for your friends, but you are not alone'.

"When students raise any case to us, it helps us to intervene early.

"So far, the challenges have been about family issues, studies, friendships, bullying and social exclusion."

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.

Education