Pupils at a Dubai school have begun weekly classes focused on mental well-being as part of a new education programme.
More than 700 young people attending Dubai College have a dedicated 25-minute session centred on 'positive psychology' to help build strength of character.
The classes are for pupils in Years 9 to 13 and will eventually be extended it to all age groups.
"By having these sessions as part of our regular school timetable shows we are giving pupil well-being the time it deserves," Mark Samways, school counsellor and head of positive education, told The National.
"Youth mental health statistics are alarming so we are trying to be more preventive than reactive," Mr Samways said.
He said that acknowledging mental well-being was crucial in preparing young people for problems in adulthood.
According to the World Health Organisation, mental health conditions account for 16 per cent of the global burden of disease in people aged 10 to 19-years-old.
Depression is ranked highest of all mental health conditions for this age group.
Earlier this year, Dubai's private school regulator, the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, published the results of the Dubai Student Wellbeing Census.
The results relating to pupil welfare and well-being were generally good – 81 per cent were positive about the future – although many of the negative findings shed light on overworked teachers.
Principal Michael Lambert, principal at Dubai College, said the new classes are intended to respond to the issues the census did highlight.
“When we looked at our results, our pupils scored higher than the Dubai average in most areas, but with one notable exception,” he said.
“We scored slightly lower when it came to emotional self-regulation.”
The school teamed up with Dr Louise Lambert, a psychologist and editor of the Middle East Journal of Positive Psychology.
“Louise has co-written our entire programme on positive psychology intervention, which is specifically designed to enable our students to have a toolkit for emotional self-regulation,” Mr Lambert said.
Each 25-minute session is led by a class form tutor and is focused on making pupils better-rounded.
“Positive education is not just about addressing problems around learning," she said.
The classes focus on social skills, health, and cognitive and psychological ability.
"These things have a huge transformative effect on who we are," she said.
When putting the school programme together, the team used first-hand knowledge of previous informal research carried out by a small team in Asia, involving more than 400 parents and students.
It found some stark misconceptions about what was most important to parents and students.
While 39 per cent of parents said that their child growing as a balanced person was most important to them, 13 per cent cited academic performance as their top priority.
In contrast, 44 per cent of pupils thought their parents wanted a strong academic performance from them. And only 14 per cent cited growing as a balanced person as a priority listed by their parents.
“This is a clear indication of the pressure pupils feel they are under,” Mr Sheridan Teasel, co-head of the positive education programme, said.
“Positive Education programmes, like the one Dubai College has launched, hope to improve students' ability to communicate effectively with each other and with all the significant adults in their lives,” he said.
Parents who attended the launch event on Monday evening, along with Dr Abdulla Karam, head of the KHDA, said giving pupils the tools to deal with emotional troubles takes away the stigma of asking for help.
“Children wear masks … they feel like they have to be a certain way, whether because of school or home life, but really they are vulnerable,” British mother-of-two, Tochirun Ali, said.
"We need to tell our children that it's okay to take off the mask and share those vulnerabilities ... we all need to be more [aware of] their emotional needs."
Alphonse Anthony, a mother-of-two from India, said she felt more inclined to open up discussion with her children that focused on the positives, not just the negatives.
"The expectations for pupils today [are] so high, even in my household, so sessions which bring these alarming statistics to the fore make you realise how much pressure our children are under."