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Monday, October 25, 2021

School children get training to reduce mental illness stigma


First-of-its-kind program in the region promotes mental health and reduces some of the negativity surrounding it. 

The Wellness Ambassadors programme, the region’s first school-based mental health programme, has led to a significant change in the knowledge, attitude and behaviours of the students within a short span of time, that’s according to its organisers. 

The initiative aims to promote mental health and reduce mental illness stigma in Qatar’s schools. Teams from Qatar Foundation (QF), Sidra Medicine, and The Learning Center worked alongside three QF schools to establish the programme.

Individual students were named Wellness Ambassadors and received intensive training on bullying, depression, anxiety, suicide and self harm. They were also trained to address common cultural misconceptions about mental health. 

The role included creating awareness amongst peers via social media posts and conversations with family members about mental health-related topics which included monthly group discussions and seminars, semi-annual joint ambassadors meeting and an annual ambassadors conference. 

The pilot trial of the project was launched in three Qatar Foundation high schools in the 2019.  The project started with a pre-launch survey to assess the level of mental health literacy and mental illness stigma in high school students. 

The project was evaluated on a number of surveys to measure the change of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards mental health before and after the implementation of the project, according to Dr. Ahsan Nazeer, Division Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Sidra Medicine.

Many studies conducted in Qatar and the region showed that public mental health literacy was poor and needed improvement. 

“Moreover, the stigma against mental illness makes it harder for the public to seek knowledge about mental health and even hinders seeking treatment sometimes. The Wellness Ambassadors project is founded on evidence-based interventions to improve mental health literacy and reduce mental illness stigma,” said Dr. Nazeer.

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