One in four people in the world will be affected by a mental health problem according to the World Health Organization1. The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated this by creating a situation of uncertainty, exacerbating feelings of apprehension and anxiety.
The pandemic has shown us how exactly mental health can affect a society and heightened the need to pay attention to issues of emotional well-being. Following social distancing and work or study from home practices, feelings of isolation have arisen, bringing a host of mental health concerns to the surface of society. An increase in psychological disorders like anxiety, depression and added introversion in school-aged children from the lack of social interaction have become major concerns for schools that are striving to keep educational continuity while keeping students’ mental health afloat.
The question is to what extent as teachers and caregivers have we nurtured resilience in the face of mental health issues; and what more can we do to safeguard the emotional well-being of students at school.
ACS International School Doha places a high level of importance on mental health, integrating it well within our core philosophy and using it in our approach to education. From the practices we followed before the pandemic to the additional programmes we have incorporated in response to it, we are guided by a fluid, comprehensive and adaptive attitude which aspires to educate and care for the person as a whole.
In the face of Covid-19, we doubled our efforts in providing support to our students, parents and staff. From welcoming parent drop ins at the Wellness Centre at school, to one-on-one sessions where we encouraged students to ‘rate your mood’ in online conversations, we maintained open and honest communication channels to better understand the wellbeing of the entire community.
Our open communication within the community gives us the foresight needed in tailoring programmes like the ACS Doha Advisory Programme. Run once a week, the Advisory Programme seeks to address issues that directly or indirectly cause mental and physical health issues by incorporating various themes each week ranging from bullying to managing stress.
Another fruitful collaboration between teachers, parents, and students has been the successful trial launch of the Middle Years Programme (MYP) eAssessment. Recognising the barriers students were facing in taking online exams, the MYP eAssessment was specifically designed to give students a space to experience examination ahead of scheduled exams and become equipped with the skills needed to succeed in online learning.
ACS Doha’s focus on wellness is complimented by teacher trainings and awareness workshops run for the benefit of the community. The school’s strong relationship with Sidra Medicine, one of Qatar’s leading medical research and healthcare providers, developed training programmes which bring in licensed medical professionals to the school to touch upon various topics.
Through frequent feedback from our student body and parents, we learn how effective our programmes are, and how we can improve them. Student Voice, ACS Doha’s student-run advocacy club, alongside surveys, and conversations with parents have fostered a close relationship between caregivers, students and the community at large, allowing us to gauge the real impact of our practices. The results of our quarterly surveys have shown a positive trend in student sentiment and overall alleviation of pandemic stress through our comprehensive Covid–19 response policies.
ACS Doha’s comprehensive 360-approach to well-being accounts for activities spanning mind, body, and soul. In addition to supporting mental health through school counsellors, the rigorous sports programme complements student health. The new 60,000 square metres landmark campus has dedicated spaces for athletics, swimming, and fitness. A 25-metre swimming pool and learners pool, an all-weather track and a football pitch are meant to attract students across all levels and inspire them to engage in physical activities to promote a balanced wellbeing.
Our understanding of mental health has increased exponentially over the last couple of years. Today, it is imperative to pay attention to our thoughts, our patterns, and our behaviours as to how they may be impacting our overall mood. More so, creating awareness around mental health as part of school can help equip future generations with the right emotional tools and coping mechanisms needed to navigate an increasingly complex world.
Alka Maher, Middle & High School counsellor at ACS Doha, holds extensive previous experience in working with children and adults who struggle with a variety psychological disorders including anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. At ACS Doha her role is concentrated in actively promoting positive wellbeing across the community to incorporate healthier strategies into their day to day lives.