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Students’ mental health takes center stage as learners return to schools and universities

Students’ mental health is a global problem brought about by a global COVID-19 pandemic. The UAE is doing something about it

Teachers should be trained and build enough know-how to flag students who may be experiencing issues 100% of teachers believe that mental health should be something more strongly addressed in classrooms Many schools are holding activities and events themed after well-being or mental health

Students’ mental health is a global problem brought about by a global COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent Reuters report found that more than 70% of US districts polled have seen increased mental health stress amongst students. A recent survey of K-12 and higher education professionals found that respondents ranked student mental health as their second-highest safety concern.

From a purely mental health standpoint, schools should consider bringing on additional counselors and mental health professionals who can meet with students throughout the school day. 

Teachers should be trained and build enough know-how to flag students who may be experiencing issues as they return to school. 

Schools can also set up anonymous tip lines to give students a private and safe way to voice their need for support.

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A UAE student mental health study

There is a great need to focus on the importance of students’ mental health and mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic time to deal with the uncertainties of the new reality they are in, according to new research in the UAE conducted by EVERFI Middle East. 

Teachers are increasingly concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the mental well-being of children and young people. That’s the reason 100% of teachers believe that mental health should be something more strongly addressed in classrooms just as important as physical health, the survey finds.

Sheherzad Kaleem, General Manager for EVERFI Middle East, said: “Managing mental well-being emerges as one of the top soft skills to be taught in classrooms during the pandemic. Teachers also believe that soft skills will be most important in the job market over the next 10 years.”

Teachers placed the most importance on communication (95%) and problem-solving (91%) as very important soft skills for students to learn.

The survey respondents also suggest some other soft skills for students such as healthy relationships, emotional well-being, being kind, family & social values, morals & social interaction, anger control, spreading positivity, and emotional health. 

But only 36% of teachers felt confident to deliver these. 

What the UAE is doing about mental health in education  

The UAE Higher Colleges of Technology, the national public college network with 16 campuses, employs one counselor at each campus. Counseling sessions were delivered through online counseling, tele-counseling, live sessions, and clinical online round tables. 

Some of the country’s private universities, including Abu Dhabi University and the American University of Sharjah, also have established counseling centers. New York University Abu Dhabi’s campus has three counselors in its health center for its roughly 1,350 students.

The Dubai campus of the United Kingdom’s University of Birmingham has established a “well-being team” that includes three student well-being ambassadors. 

The university also has set up a Rain Room, furnished with plants, that gives students an opportunity to take a break and relax from any sort of stress. 

Schools in the UAE are also boosting their mental health and well-being programs for students. 

Many schools are holding activities and events themed after well-being or mental health. Others are also conducting internal surveys on the subject.  

At GEMS Wellington Academy in Silicon Oasis, the school has been developing students’ emotional and social well-being and related skills.  Teachers are also encouraged to discuss any potential well-being concerns that have arisen throughout the week within that particular year group. 

Brighton College Dubai will introduce mental health and well-being studies in the curriculum when it launches its sixth form (final two A-Level or AS Level years) in September.  

In Abu Dhabi, students and staff throughout Aldar Education are being inspired to focus on their well-being, with the education provider committing to dedicate 26.3 million minutes to wellness in celebration of the UAE’s 50th anniversary year. 

The ‘#GOTAMINUTE’ campaign sees over 27,000 students and staff throughout Aldar Education encouraged to take time out to focus on activities and exercises which will be dedicated to mental and physical health.