Teach students basic counselling, stress-coping skills

Every month last year on average, more than two young people aged 10 to 19 killed themselves. And if we add figures from the 20 to 29 age group, it would be 106 deaths out of a total of 409 suicides ("Teen suicides 'highest in 15 years but overall rate falls'"; Tuesday).

To read about so many teenagers and young adults taking their own lives is devastating. To address this alarming figure, policymakers need to take urgent and immediate action.

Being a society in which the weighting of academic success is substantial for all stakeholders (students, parents and schools), there is enormous pressure on all parties.

If this economics-driven culture is irreversible, then appropriate programmes are needed to help parents and youngsters to cope. And these should be effectively executed with mass coverage and the right resources to achieve maximum efficacy.

At the parents' level, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) introduced the Positive Parenting Programme (Triple P) in 20 schools two years ago ("Parenting scheme helps to lower stress"; Wednesday). By 2018, it will be offered in 178 schools.

Participating parents whose children are in Primary 3, Primary 4, Secondary 1 or Secondary 2, reported that their stress levels fell by up to 38 per cent.

The Triple P pilot is definitely a good move.

However, there is a lack of similar courses for students. Schools may have their own programmes to build resilience and stress-coping skills in students, but I believe there is none on a national level. I thus urge the Government to look into a mandatory coping programme for students.

Professional counsellors have said that those at risk of suicide often act impulsively under stress or inner turmoil.

The Education Ministry or MSF should consider collaborating with professionals to add basic counselling techniques or social and emotional management skills to the current upper primary and lower secondary school curricula.

This will not only benefit the students themselves, but also help them play "watcher" roles for their troubled friends, who are likely to prefer confiding their feelings to peers over parents or other adults.

This is a pressing issue, as many more lives could be lost; we need to act fast.

Catherine Soh (Madam)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Teach students basic counselling, stress-coping skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe