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City continues focus on student mental health

Update: September, 10/2014 - 09:02
Marie Curie High School in HCM City. Local authorities expect to reduce the number of students who are experencing depression, stress and anxiety. — Photo wikipedia.org
by Gia Loc

HCM CITY (VNS) — At the beginning of this academic year, the 10th and 12th graders at Marie Curie High School in HCM City's District 3 were asked to fill out a questionnaire to identify any psychological problems such as depression, stress and anxiety.

Bui Thi Kieu, a counsellor who works in the school's psychology and career counselling office, said that 10th graders who were entering high school for the first time had to adapt to a new environment and make new friends.

"And for 12th graders, they have the pressure of graduation exams and university entrance exams," Kieu added.

The questionnaires have helped Kieu and her colleagues identify students who are experiencing stress and those who may be suicidal.

Kieu and her colleagues talk to the students and help them find ways to overcome their problems.

"One way that helps them escape depression and anxiety is to have someone who will listen to them," she said.

The main causes for depression and anxiety among students are their parents' divorce, financial difficulties, or study pressure caused by parents.

Students often wrote to their counsellors about their problems via email or Facebook, she said.

For students with serious psychological problems, counsellors talk to the students' parents and suggest a visit to a psychologist at a hospital.

Nguyen Xuan Giap of Truong Vinh Ky Private School, which also boards students from other provinces and cities, said his school had paid special attention to psychological counselling for its students, especially provincial students, because they live far from their family.

Students had been helped to deal with problems associated with their friends, family or school, Giap said.

His school has provided counselling via phone, email and Facebook, as well as face-to-face counselling in the school's office.

Facebook was the most popular means for sharing, Giap said, because the students felt there was less shame this way.

Each year, the school's counsellor provided advice and help to more than 1,000 students, he said.

Tran Hoang Tam of Hong Bang Secondary School's Counselling Office said that many students who couldnot overcome their problems reached an impasse.

When this occured, many of them fell into depression or have anxiety disorders, and some had continuing negative thoughts that could cause them to hurt themselves, Tam said. At a conference held earlier this year, Tran Khac Huy, head of the Students Affairs Division at the HCM City Department of Education and Training, said most schools did not have qualified school counsellors, that was, people who had had training or taken some courses in educational counselling.

Currently, the city has only 120 "specialised", or qualified, school counsellors.

Kieu said one limitation for all counselors was the lack of a content framework for the field.

In addition, no university in Viet Nam offered a major in school psychological counselling, she said.

Basic knowledge

According to Nguyen Thi Bich Hong of the education and psychology faculty at the HCM City University of Education, school counsellors needed to have basic knowledge of psychology and counselling skills.

Eexisting counsellors at schools in the city lacked this kind of knowledge and skill, Hong said.

Hong suggested that the department should work with the HCM City Education and Psychology Association to offer more training courses to improve professional knowledge and skills.

A network of counselling experts, psychologists and lawyers which could assist counselors should also be established, she said.

Dr. Lam Hieu Minh of the HCM City Psychiatric Hospital said that effective counselling at school would help reduce the number of children coming to the hospital for treatment. The number of children rose to 32,000 last year from 25,000 in 2011.

A cross-sectional study conducted among 1,161 secondary students in Can Tho City from September to December in 2011 by the Can Tho University of Medicine and Pharmacy's Public Health Faculty showed results that were comparable to a diagnosis of anxiety (22.8 per cent) and depression (41.1 per cent).

Suicide had been seriously considered by 26.3 per cent of the students, while 12.9 per cent had planned suicide and 3.8 per cent had attempted suicide.

Major risk factors related to anxiety and depression were physical or emotional abuse by the family and high stress related to school and studying.

Nearly 80 per cent of the students suggested that the academic workload should be reduced and that counselors bound by professional confidentiality rules should be appointed at schools.

Other research in Ha Noi and Thua Thien Hue Province also shows a high prevalence of students from primary to high school levels with stress and anxiety as well as depression.

"I hope schools improve their counselling for students to prevent psychological problems in a timely fashion. The quality of life among children has dropped, so their counselling needs are high," Minh added.

Minh also proposed separate counselling rooms because students are often reluctant to go to the rooms, fearful of the stigma commonly attached to mental problems.

Moreover, schools should help students understand the role of a school counsellor, he added.

Duong Van Ba, deputy head of the Student Affairs Department, said the Ministry of Education and Training had asked all departments of education and training in provinces and cities to devote more time and attention to counselling at schools.

HCM City's Department of Education and Training has asked to carry out counselling at schools for many years, and the city's People's Council has approved the hiring of one counsellor for each school.

However, Ba said while many schools had developed a plan to hire counsellors, the policies had not been attractive to applicants.

The ministry is currently drawing up a plan to offer social services at schools, including counselling. It will be submitted to the Government so an official policy can be developed, he said. — VNS


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