Making mental health and wellbeing
a global development priority in schools
Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community (WHO, 2014). Mental health problems among children have been increasing over the past decades. About 20% of school children experience mental health difficulties. Depression is portrayed as the primary global health issue amongst adolescents, with suicide being the third-biggest cause of adolescent death (WHO, 2015). Half of the mental health difficulties begins before the age of 14 years. This underlines the urgent need for early intervention, with schools providing a unique opportunity for the promotion of mental health of students from an early age and at vulnerable periods in their development. Schools are an ideal setting in which to promote mental health for children and youth, providing an opportunity to reach large groups of children during their formative years of cognitive, emotional and behavioural development (Weare, 2000).
Although a number of initiatives aimed at reducing mental health problems at school have been carried out in the last decade, a review of the current educational national policies in many EU countries reveals a lack of priority to wellbeing in schools as well as lack of comprehensive evidence-based programs to promote mental health in schools (European Union, 2016).
The main aims of the PROMEHS project are:
to provide a systematic framework for the development and implementation of an evidence-based universal mental health curriculum in schools and to deliver high-quality training for school staff;
to increase the mental health of students and teachers;
to share best-practice and recommendations for school staff, parents, policy-makers and stakeholders on how to promote mental health in school;
to integrate PROMEHS into national educational and health policies;
to promote innovation in educational policies in collaboration with national and international public authorities;
to develop an evidence-based curriculum to promote positive mental health at school.
The curriculum will seek to enhance the social and emotional well-being of students, improving their attitudes towards self, others, and learning, as well as reduce conduct problems and aggression, emotional distress and anxiety.
PROMEHS will provide high-quality training for school staff as one of the most impacting and effecting factors in mental health promotion in schools.
The findings and outcomes will then serve as the basis for national educational policies in the Member States on mental health promotion in school.
PROMEHS will be implemented in six partner Countries (Italy, Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Portugal, and Romania) using the training study methodology. A quasi-experimental design will be used. The research study includes the collection of longitudinal data during the pre and the post-test phases of the implementation and the comparison between the experimental group (which receives the intervention between the pre-test and post-test) and the control group (which receives the intervention after the post test phase). The impact of the PROMEHS curriculum (independent variable) on students’ and teachers’ mental health will be assessed by comparing groups' outcomes within times (pre Vs post-test) and between groups (experimental Vs control group).
The curriculum will be delivered by trained teachers and will include a series of activities for students to strengthen their personal and interpersonal skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision making, and to reduce behavioural problems and at-risk behaviours. It will be developmentally appropriate with different activities based on different ages and developmental stages of children and young people, including different sets of activities for kindergarten children, primary and secondary school students.