ACTAsia’s Teachers Forum Discusses Vital Issue of Children’s Mental Health

More than 5,500 psychologists, educators, philosophers and people from all walks of life who care about the well-being of youth participated in the conference through an online and offline approach. The Teacher’s Forum was held online for all participants and in the afternoon, speakers were welcomed in person to the forum in Shenzhen.


The goals of the Forum

The aim of the conference was to facilitate the sharing of national and international experiences in the mental health sphere and to encourage Principals and teachers to work together to build vital networks for the protection of children’s mental health. 

With so much focus on the physical damage caused by COVID19, there has been far less focus on the toll on all of our mental health, in particular the damaging impact on children. With the arrival of new variants and no promise of an end in sight, the strain on youngsters is incalculable. Youth suicide and bullying in schools are current and vital issues that need to be addressed in order to secure the protection and development of young people worldwide.  The forum highlighted the need to strengthen social support systems and improve the approach within schools surrounding mental health.

Half of mental health illnesses start in childhood

According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. The forum hoped to facilitate the sharing of both national and international experiences in this area, with speakers joining from China, Japan and the US, giving a global reach to possible solutions.

Statistics will reveal the true numbers over time, but many countries are reporting a sharp rise in harmful use of drugs, alcohol and a surge in eating disorders amongst the young. Addiction to gaming is also a concern as youngsters are holed up in bedrooms – indeed the Chinese government took the controversial step to limit gaming hours for Chinese youths recently

UN Goal for Well Being is ground breaking in today’s pandemic world

The UN has set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) for all nations to work towards that are designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all”. ACTAsia actively engages with the UN goals in our all our work, and in particular SDG number 3, which states: “Prevention and treatment of noncommunicable diseases, including behavioural, developmental and neurological disorders, which constitute a major challenge for sustainable development.” This goal is ground breaking in highlighting the vital importance of addressing mental health issues and not simply physical issues. ACTAsia felt that highlighting the importance of SDG number 3 at the Forum was integral to our work. 

What was covered in the Well Being Forum?

The Well Being forum was divided into a morning forum discussing children’s mental health, and an afternoon forum which focused on a practical approach to addressing mental health in schools. Theoretical and practical experiences were combined in the hope of promoting shared experiences in this field so that participants could then work together in building networks of support.

Identifying suicide risk

Vital practical guidance was very much at the forefront of the afternoon forum, for example, how to identify a suicide risk and possible causes, and importantly what not to do; blame, lecture, or to ignore the cry for help. As Prof. Chen Jianmin Vice Dean, Soochow University of Science and Technology explained: “Rational thought and thinking is impossible when children are in crisis, they can regress in behaviours to a younger child. We see much more impulsive thought and this is the danger of suicide in children and adolescents. Educators need to recognise a change in behaviour for the individual and act.” 

The role of teachers in youth well-being

During the Forum the speakers discussed the role of teachers in children’s mental health and proposed the significance of four roles: well-being protector, listening companion, coach of social development and guide to support students’ independent development. ACTAsia’s Caring for Life (CFL) curriculum includes teaching methods that are in line with this approach to mental health and well-being. The teacher is viewed as a role model rather than solely an authoritarian figure and the lessons promote an open environment where children can share their feelings and ideas and be guided through the process of managing these feelings and developing emotional intelligence including empathy. The skills children gain when they work together on projects – with the opportunity to inquire and apply their own experience – gives ample opportunity for teachers to question and build up confidence in children, it also gives opportunity to talk openly and for children to ask for help should they need it.  CFL encourages student led clubs and extra-curricular activities to deepen and further their understanding, including friendship clubs or caring chairs and recycling or gardening.

The importance of recognising shared health

The Teacher’s Forum was held on national One Health Day which was very poignant. The One Health concept focuses on the interconnectedness of the health of people, animals and the environment. At the Forum, ACTAsia’s CEO and founder Pei Su commented about the significance of this national day and concept: “Coronavirus is a common disease among humans and animals, and once again reminds us of the importance of shared health among animals, the environment and humans. The rapid development of modern society, and the advancement of technology have indeed brought convenience, but also posed multiple challenges to the health of animals, the environment and humans worldwide. Many statistics have shed light on the major global crisis in the mental health and well-being of young people. According to WHO, an important way to prevent suicide is to develop ‘socio-emotional life skills’, which is why ACTAsia’s Caring for Life primary curriculum focuses on the development of socio-emotional skills (emotional intelligence) in children aged 6-12 years. The importance of youth mental health will continue to be a focus for our children’s education programme in years to come.”

How ACTAsia is educating teachers and children about mental health

ACTAsia’s Caring for Life (CFL) education programme includes the subject of mental health in the lessons for older children. CFL education aims to help children develop a sense of compassion and responsibility for animals, people and the environment. Taught over six years and based on UNESCO’s Four Pillars of Education, the curriculum encompasses social welfare and citizenship, animal welfare and environmental issues. A number of CFL Pioneer School Principals joined the Teachers Forum including; Principal Luo Lin, Principal Mei Jie, Principal Li Qinghui and Director Wang Qiuying, to share their schools’ experiences in youth protection and explain how the CFL lessons that explore disability, discrimination and mental health are vital for the children. 

How progress can be made in the area of mental health

By discussing mental health and its importance, ACTAsia hopes that more teaching staff can be made aware of these issues especially among the wider teaching staff and parents and that real progress can be made. The very fact that so many participants joined the Well Being Forum is testament to the caring and empathetic values that ACTAsia encourage and promote, and proof that the subject of mental health is really on the global radar.