In my most recent posts, I investigate how much we do for mental health as a society. However, I wanted to look one step further into education and the education system. For a system that prides itself on producing many bright students and the number of students who manage to go to JC, Polytechnic and Universities, one thing we are still greatly lacking is the proper education for those beyond the books – mental health and well-being. My investigations show exactly that, and sadly, this result did not come as a surprise.
Rolls of Red Tape
It is appaling how we tell the right things to the right people. While we tell parents about how individual schools are good and can be more beneficial to their child than other schools, asking them about their mental health and wellbeing programs result in no answer. It is as if the envelope that contains the mental well-being plans are covered in rolls and rolls of red tape.
Simply asking for facts result in answers like, “I cannot answer that question“, “You need to ask the Ministry for information” and “I will need to verify your identity before I can tell you more.” Mind you, the questions that I asked are asking for factual responses to what schools are doing for student’s mental well-being. Why is telling parents – often strangers – information about their school customary, a factual response to a similar question from an independent investigation covered in red tape?
Even the staff at the Ministry of Education told me, “(they) do apologize but (they) am unable to meet with (me)” after knowing that I am investigating into this. There should be nothing to hide, right?
I was instead referred to two different resources to “help in my investigation”. The first is a list of articles on the website SchoolBag.sg.
Schoolbag.sg is an online publication by the Ministry of Education, Singapore. They provide parents, educators and the general public with education news, school features and tips. While I have heard of this website, I wonder what how the general analytics of the website pan out. How many parents and general public visit the website to read about education news? News cycles are quick and more for those interested in sensational and shorter pieces of news, how attractive can this information be?
Also, with the lack of education about mental health, do parents know enough to educate their child and care for their child who spends a large portion of time in school or school-related activities?
The second is from an official report of the parliamentary debates on 10 October 2016.
In conclusion, the answers include: (a) counsellors are on hand and referrals occur; (b) interventions occur; (c) there are plans for when a student commits suicide, and (d) Social Emotional Learning occurs. There is nothing about education about general mental well-being, mental illnesses and how we can cope with that, which can help in preventing the problem from occurring in the first place.
It seems that plans are catered around reacting instead of being proactive, evident in (a) through (c). I discuss Social-Emotional Learning in the next section. All in all, this is evidence of what is lacking in our co-curricular education.
Empty File Cabinets
I have been referred once and again to what is Social Emotional Learning. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is an umbrella term that refers to students’ “acquisition of skills to recognise and manage emotions, develop care and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively.
To me, these are skills that every individual should have. There is, again, no mention of mental health and well-being.
While these can affect one’s mental health, students are not required to be taught what mental health and well-being is, how their actions can affect them, mental illnesses and how they can affect an individual, as well as the significance of mental health, is as a whole. There is no mention of mental health on the only page dictating what this framework includes.
This is the only mention of mental well-being, with no reference to what this research is. A positive correlation between SEL and good mental well-being does not mean that students do not go through struggles with their mental health. Causation and correlation are two separate things. This can also mean the school has to effectively carry out this framework for a possibility of good mental well-being.
Glimmer of Hope
I was also referred to a grant by the Tote Board.
Unfortunately, I am not registered with the Commissioner of Charities (COC), Registry of Societies (ROS) or Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Hence, I am not eligible for up to SGD 20,000 in grants. To be registered with these agencies include their own requirements. This makes it harder for the average individual to make a big dent in education about mental health.
The National Council of Social Service has works in advocacy and research for persons with mental health issues.
However, this is the only text I can find about their work. The two above examples are good glimmers of hope in the progression of mental health advocacy, but this investigation focuses on what we are (not) doing to educate our students properly.
A Statistical Study
Immediately after reading that I am investigating into mental health education in Singapore, the Ministry’s representative decided not to meet me. So that’s a 0.
Hypothetically, we would like to hear about the mental health approaches and customised plans that each school has implemented with the help of the Ministry. I decided to ask every school 3 simple questions:
- What is the state of mental health education in your school?
- If any, how are your mental health education plans implemented in school?
- What support does the individual school get from MOE?
I approached every school by email, and subsequently by phone.
Instead, I am met by the standard jargon of needing to seek permission from the Ministry to speak to schools, which as shown above, is to no avail. Schools also opt for the standard “we are doing everything we can for our students to grow” jargon.
I can now confidently say that 0 of our schools provide concrete mental health plans for students. In that case, our students are shit out of luck. If schools had plans, they should not have any difficulty telling me the plans that aid our students.
We are not doing enough for mental health education and keeping the mental well-being of students in check.
The box that is our mental health care for students is wrapped in so much red tape that we would need to engage Schrodinger’s Cat to tell us about its existence. Our nature of keeping everything under a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy is perhaps better known as a don’t-tell policy, for I have asked and I am presented with nothing but a farce.
We have frameworks like the Social Emotional Learning, but there is no concrete evidence (that I can source) that shows the nature of enforcement of such a framework. Also, since facts are already difficult to find, opinions will pose an even larger challenge.
With an increasing rate of people facing challenges in their mental health, and in teen suicides, the effects of this lack of education can be seen in real-world situations. Our culture of reacting will one day become too late, or maybe it already has.
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