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FG should integrate mental health into national school curriculum – Leila Fowler-Amba


By Sola Ogundipe and Clare Ijeoma

In order to ensure greater intervention in mental health issues in Nigeria, the federal government has been tasked with integrating mental health into the country’s school curriculum. Vivian-Fowler Memorial College for Girls, Lagos Principal Ms Leila Olufunke Fowler-Amba, who phoned in conversation with Vanguard, said such a decision was important in helping demystify mental health and break the culture of silence that surrounds it. .

Speaking ahead of the 1st Vanguard Mental Health Summit in Lagos on August 26, 2021 at EKO Hotel & Towers, Lagos, Fowler-Amba, which called for a solid conversation on mental health issues in the country , said most parents and society as a whole is in denial.

She pointed out that in a culture where people don’t talk about their mental health issues, there are so many barriers, although she lamented that many parents as well as society in general are in denial, d ‘where the need to bring business to the forefront.

“In our school structure, we need to make mental health part of the curriculum. Mental health needs to be built into the curriculum, just as drug use also needs to be built in at an early stage of learning so that children understand that a mental health issue is not the end of the journey and that they can get help.

“We need to inject mental health into our program, we need to make sure we have more training for our parents. This is the kind of thing that we have to bring back, where parents have access and they find they are not alone because most people feel lonely.

“It has to be an ongoing conversation. We need to educate people about mental health and educate parents about it, we need to start discussing mental health issues.

“Although this is an uncomfortable conversation in our culture, absolutely right, but we have to understand that mental health is a spectrum. We have grown up believing that the mind is extreme, but we have to realize that mental health is a spectrum.

“It goes from very little depression and can go up to extreme depression. So I think it’s a conversation we need to have in order to be able to support children.”

Fowler-Amba noted that culturally speaking about mental health issues is an uncomfortable topic at home, but she called for more conversation about mental health issues. We have grown up believing that the mind is extreme. The image we had of mental health was that it was extreme.

“But we have to realize that mental health is a spectrum. It goes from a very small depression and can go up to an extreme depression. So I think this is a conversation we need to have in order to be able to support children.

Pushing the argument for the conversation around mental health to be an ongoing process, Fowler-Amba tasked educators with the challenge.

“I don’t think there is a school that hasn’t encountered a problem with some form of mental health and that’s why I’m specifically saying it’s a spectrum. You are not going to see people take their clothes off, it is extreme.

“One thing every educator should know is that mental health is about learning. When a child is rebellious or is not doing well in school, it can be attributed to some form of mental health.

“So everyone in every school will be in denial if you say you haven’t been through this, so the key now is not to be in denial but what tools are you going to put together to support the children?” so that in the end they can finish well?

“And one of the tools every school needs is an open door policy so kids can talk. There has to be a bond between the students and the teachers, you have to be mindful with the teachers, because even teachers suffer from mental disorders, and mental health awareness is also about parents. “

Noting that school prefects should be empowered to organize a mental health week, Fowler-Amba said a counselor and a school psychologist should also be available in schools.

She argued that the 21st century calls not only for a school counselor, but also a school psychologist.

“There is a bit of denial, this current generation is clamoring for this infrastructure, educational infrastructure being in place for children to function because there is an interconnection between all of these things.

“It’s a tripod. You know, in education, any successful education system has to have an educational tripod – the parents, the student and the school – there has to be collaboration between all parties so that one voice is expressed. .

“Like every other school, Vivian Fowler Memorial Girls’ School has a counselor, but we’ve gone the extra mile to have a child psychologist because you need a mental health expert.

“You need someone who has been educated and certified, so we have a child psychologist who comes three times a week and she meets with every student. She works on controlling their behavior, their confidence, their personality, then anyone needing a referral is recommended to our child psychologist. But our child psychologist works from a holistic point of view.

“Every child is important. We realize that one of the tools for improving mental health is personality mastery which brings about self-confidence which eliminates insecurities, which makes that person feel confident to be who they are.

I think what we have learned from the Covid-19 pandemic is that the relationship between school and student is extremely important. Any institution that survived COVID-19 wouldn’t have had one if it didn’t have some sort of mental health support system for their children.

I totally agree that parents should also be on social media in order to monitor their wards. Parents need to understand what the whole process is. Fathers have to be more important because we are raising children and there is a term called toxic masculinity which means there is a lot of pressure on a man to be a man which means in the process the parents do not understand that this leads to mental disorders. failure because there is a lot of pressure.

On mental health and youthful exuberance, Fowler-Amba argued that mental education does not end with one, but must be continuous.

“Parents should try to be observant because children sometimes do not speak to avoid being judged. So I think the government must also provide. People don’t know where to go.

“For example, if you look in westernized countries, if a child is feeling suicidal or depressed, there is a number that can be called.

“I’m sure there are quite a few in Lagos State, but how accessible is it? I think maybe there needs to be a partnership between the private sector and the public sector because a child is not going to come to you and tell you that he is suicidal. It does not work like that.

“Mental health should be open. If there are two things that we do not talk about in our society, it is drug use and mental health.

“The conversation about mental health is one that we’re not that afraid of. I think there needs to be more of this conversation just like there needs to be training.

“We need to make sure that teachers do not see themselves only as teachers, but also as pastoral workers, because they spend more time with children than even parents. So it needs to be integrated into our curriculum.

“What’s scary is that a few years ago I was doing some research and found out that in all of Nigeria we had less than 200 psychiatrists, so how do they treat 200 million people?

“We don’t even have the infrastructure to help kids if they’re feeling suicidal because there are expenses too, so I think part of retooling or rewriting our program is that we have to look at a few academics because if we don’t have qualified people, you don’t have emotional intelligence, you can’t even survive on the job. You cannot be employable.

“I would say that a mental health challenge is not the end of the world. We all suffer from mental health issues, it’s a specter.

“I’m sure a lot of people wake up one day and don’t feel 100% and it’s important for us to understand that for these kids they need a lot of mastery, patience, ears that they can answer and, I say especially to parents, you need time with your children.

“We have to support these children, we have to understand that the way we were raised is not the way they will be raised. In particular, I think we should stop seeing mental health as a stigma. With treatment, with support, this is something we can overcome.

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