UAE schools win awards for training teens in mental health first aid

Private schools are working to teach pupils the importance of wellbeing

Gems Wesgreen International School – Sharjah won the TES Student Mental Health Initiative of the Year award. Source: Gems Wesgreen International School – Sharjah
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Schools across the UAE have been lauded for their efforts to care for their pupils' mental health.

Dubai's Gems FirstPoint School – The Villa recently received the School Mental Health Award from the Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools, part of Leeds Beckett University in the UK.

The silver standard certification was awarded for setting up a peer-to-peer mental health programme for pupils. It has also established an integrated wellbeing curriculum, 'happiness trees' and mindfulness spaces.

Matthew Barrett, head of primary, said the award recognised the important work being carried out to promote mental wellbeing.

He said year 12 and 13 pupils, who trained in mental health first aid, served as “wellbeing warriors”.

“These pupils visit tutor groups in the secondary school every morning, providing peer support and checking in with fellow pupils,” he said.

Pupils have trained to become “empathy detectives”, encouraged to identify and acknowledge peers who demonstrate kindness and empathy.

Mental health 'first aid'

Gems Wesgreen International School – Sharjah won the prestigious TES Student Mental Health Initiative of the Year award.

The school, which runs the Teen Mental Health First Aid programme, equips pupils with the training to identify peers who may be experiencing difficulties. It has trained 75 pupils since 2021 as mental health first aiders.

Roxanne Wolmarans, head of student support and inclusion at the school, said the programme came about after staff noticed a decline in pupils' mental health, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We had pupils come to us and they said we needed to do something more on a pupil-level, because we did have our counsellors, but we were still not reaching all of our pupils,” Ms Wolmarans said.

The school worked with The Lighthouse Arabia, a mental health clinic in Dubai, to train the mental health first aiders.

“The programme is also about creating awareness to reduce stigma," she said.

“We do have a big push for mental health and psychological wellbeing within our school for our parents, pupils and our staff. This year, for example, we've run workshops on psychological wellbeing.”

The school also has a wellbeing curriculum in place and an anti-bullying committee which works in tandem with the mental health first aiders.

Gauri Chibber, a 19-year-old Indian pupil, said the mental health first aiders programme was important as it forged bonds between pupils.

She said cyberbullying and academic stress affected pupils, and the first aiders help guide their peers if they feel pressured.

“There's academic pressure to get into a university or to get the best grades, that's very common," she said.

“During the training, we were taught how to tackle situations if we believe a pupil is struggling. However, we are not supposed to diagnose anybody.

“What we were taught was to be empathetic towards them in such a way that they don't feel intimidated. We could guide them to the wellbeing leaders such as our counsellor.”

Gold standard

In 2021, The British School Al Khubairat was awarded the Gold Standard Mental Health Award from the Carnegie Centre.

“These include a counselling service, a range of preventative measures and activities, a wellbeing group for staff, and holistic wellbeing education for pupils, staff and parents, to develop their wellbeing practice at home,” said head teacher Mark Leppard.

Updated: May 24, 2024, 8:17 AM