The Kenya Psychiatric Association’s Position on School Mental Health

The Kenya Psychiatric Association is a professional association registered with the Registrar of Societies in 1986 as a non-political, non-religious, and non-profit making organization. The Kenya Psychiatric Association’s objectives include the promotion of the field of Psychiatry in Kenya; the Promotion and improvement of mental health in the community; Offering expertise and advice on professional matters related to mental health; Maintaining professional and ethical standards in the practice of psychiatry. KPA is a member of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA).

Over the past few years, there have been raising concerns about cases of indiscipline and violent behaviour among learners in Kenyan schools. Moreover, there has also been an increase among learners seeking mental health services in various facilities across the country. This has been attributed to various factors in the schools, such as peer pressure, harsh school rules, stress related to performance pressure, poor parental care, drug abuse, and inconsistent punishments. All these factors point to or contribute to poor mental health among the students. Mentally healthy students are more likely to go to school ready to learn, actively engage in school activities, have supportive and caring connections with adults and young people, use appropriate problem-solving skills, have nonaggressive behaviours, and add to positive school culture. It is therefore important to ensure that all learners are in good mental health to maximize their potential.

In response to these challenges, KPA would like to adopt the following position:

1. Curriculum:

The current CBC has included children with intellectual and learning challenges via diversification of learning away from academic achievement. Every developing child requires recognition and a good learning experience that involves both the teacher and parents. CBC has responded to this by fully involving parents and they are likely to identify challenges faced by their children as early as possible.

2. Proper time management

If enforced, learners will have sufficient time to rest, recuperate, sleep, and take part in extra-curricular activities. There should be enough time allocated for breaks, free periods, and physical education classes, and these should not be taken over by examinable subjects, as has been the case in the past. KPA proposes that this is enforced in the following ways:

  • Ensure that students have adequate sleep: Adequate sleep promotes healthy physical, cognitive and emotional development. We call for adjustment of school routines to allow at the minimum 8 hours of sleep. No boarding school should force students to wake up earlier than 6 a.m.
  • Encourage student participation in physical activities: Every school should provide a variety of sports activities that allow students to explore sports talents and exercise at least 30 minutes of physical exercise, a minimum of three times a week.
  • Encourage participation in other extra-curricular activities such as art, theatre and music.

3. Indiscipline and punishment:

  • Substance use should be treated as a mental health problem: Students are prone to experiment with substances as they grow up and where regular use develops and interferes with functioning, they should be offered a chance for treatment/rehabilitation and return to school.
  • Incorporation of Mental Health in the curriculum: Students should be taught how to cope with stress, increase resilience when faced with setbacks, increase their emotional intelligence and promote good mental health.
  • Mental health and psychosocial support services: Every school should have a counselling psychologist to help students navigate stressful situations such as grief, failing exams, relationships, pregnancy, economic hardships at home and any traumatic events that may affect them. All schools must have a referral plan for more serious mental health problems.
  • Additional support for student leaders with additional responsibilities: Student leaders who support the school in various roles should be provided with additional skills to help them balance their roles and academic work.

5. A Mental Health friendly school environment:

Schools should organize regular forums including mental health talks, debates and writing competitions to create awareness of mental health among students. Students who suffer from episodes of severe illnesses should be welcomed back to the school community following treatment.

6. Teachers' Involvement

  • The student-to-teacher ratio should be 40:1 as recommended by UNESCO.

    students to have maximum attention from their teachers, and translate to better learning and productivity. Moreover, this will also prevent stress and burnout among the teaching fraternity due to handling a class that is too large.

  • Teachers should be trained in mental health so as to be able to identify children who may have mental, neurological, learning or intellectual difficulties and disabilities. Requisite referrals for assessment should be made and appropriate interventions instituted as early as possible.

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