New guide helps parents better support students' mental health

The mental health guide would help parent support groups pivot to virtual activities for parents to support their children. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

SINGAPORE - Parents who want to monitor their children's mental health can refer to a new guide published by the Ministry of Education (MOE) in December last year.

The mental well-being resource guide aims to assist parent support groups (PSGs) across schools here with planning activities around mental health awareness that involve both parents and students.

It also instructs parents and teachers to look out for students displaying certain behaviours and lists the relevant helplines they can call for the students' mental health concerns.

Behavioural signs that could indicate mental health concerns include struggling to pay attention in class and during activities, absenteeism and staying away from peers.

Parents and educators The Straits Times spoke to said the guide would help them better support students amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which has disrupted classes and curbed social interaction in schools.

Ms Roseline Ter, 55, chairman of the PSG at CHIJ St Nicholas' Girls School, said PSGs, which would often be on-site at schools to help out with activities for Racial Harmony Day or the Mooncake Festival, had faced challenges organising events amid the pandemic.

"PSGs have been racking our brains to organise events during this time. We have realised that communication among parents, kids and the school is key. We also realised there is a demand for parent-child bonding, so we have been circulating bite-size messages for the parents to connect with their children," she said.

The mental health guide, Ms Ter said, would help PSGs pivot to virtual activities for parents to support their children.

"We parents are not mental health professionals, therefore this guide helps the PSGs act as a bridge to link parents and help each other identify signs of mental health concerns among students," she said.

The guide identifies four key areas to support PSGs: the importance of mental health, the role of PSGs as resource and peer supporters to parents, tips for PSGs to share about mental well-being, and some case examples of PSGs supporting parents.

CHIJ St Nicholas' Girls School principal Fiona Tan said the guide reflects and amplifies the awareness about mental well-being that schools and MOE have been developing through character and citizenship classes in the curriculum and other co-curricular activities.

One of the mental well-being activities the school hopes to conduct is an art therapy workshop for parents and students with a professional therapist.

Mr Alvin Lee, 53, chairman of Temasek Secondary School's PSG, noted that despite the pandemic limiting opportunities for parents to meet and share their insights with one another, PSGs continued to see the same number of new members coming in.

"Parents are still eager to know about the happenings at school and support students. The mental health guide, therefore, helps PSGs to understand and provide information on what mental health is, how to identify mental health concerns and how to get help," he said.

Mr Lee said he has come across parents who were financially affected by the pandemic but tried their best to keep providing for their children.

"If we share our collective experiences about mental health and challenges, we can break the stigma surrounding this issue and convey the message to students and parents alike that they are not alone and can rely on their peers," he said.

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