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Children need mental health support

Update: February, 14/2015 - 09:00

Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper spoke with Bui Van Linh, deputy head of the Ministry of Education and Training's student affairs department, about the importance of counselling.

What are your concerns about mental health counselling activities at schools, which you have said are often neglected and have led to numerous regrettable consequences?

The years children spend in school are a critical phase in the development of their personality and character. They often have to deal with not just academic problems, but also problems in their relationships with peers, family and teachers.

Without guidance and support to help them resolve their problems in a timely manner, they may drop out, suffer from depression or turn to violence.

A common occurrence recently that has attracted public attention is violence in schools. It's an alarming thing. Students aren't just violent against their peers but also against teachers, and I believe the lack of attention to students' mental health had contributed greatly.

In addition, when we talk about school violence we often think about fights - but they're the tip of the iceberg. School violence takes many forms, as students may feel they are being oppressed, threatened or bullied.

Left unresolved for long enough, those mental states can turn into clinical issues and become very difficult to treat. In some cases they may even lead to tragic incidents. It's school psychiatrists' mission to assist students and to prevent those incidents from happening.

School mental health counselling also aims to provide students with life skills, such as the ability to avoid or overcome crises in social relationships. Having a professional establishment for school psychiatrists will help attract well-trained and dedicated experts, similar to models used in developed countries.

What would you say to cities and provinces that are interested in bringing counselling to their schools, but are afraid they won't be able to afford highly qualified psychiatrists?

We understand that it may be difficult to hire mental health counsellors to permanent positions, as the education system is pushing to reduce its size. A temporary solution is to train existing teaching staff to perform the job.

The ministry will quickly finish administrative procedures to make mental health counsellors mandatory job positions for every school.

There have been educational psychology departments in many Vietnamese pedagogical universities, but for some reason there was no programme for school mental health counsellors until 2004. What do you think about the lacking of qualified people in this aspect of our education system?

It is true that Vietnamese pedagogical universities often focus on training teachers in technical and scientific subjects. Other fields that were considered supportive, such as mental health counselling, haven't received much attention until now.

The education system has realised the importance of having professional, dedicated mental health staff. However, to ensure successful implementation of the idea, we must learn how to integrate scientific principles and sound practices into the process.

The department is preparing for a conference at the end of the year to discuss a model for mental health counselling in Vietnamese schools. In the mean time, we are working with international organisations in related fields, and we encourage schools with existing mental health facility to continue to improve and contribute ideas to our working model. — VNS

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