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Letters | Make Hong Kong schools a safe place for sharing feelings

I refer to the article, “Number of Hong Kong students with mental health problems doubles in 4 years, with experts blaming 2019 social unrest and Covid” (May 8).

As a Hong Kong-based non-profit dedicated to transforming the communication culture in schools and families, we empathise with the challenges Hongkongers faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Everyone has gone through some tough years.

We believe the introduction of a comprehensive social-emotional education programme in schools will contribute to emotional well-being.

Overseas research has shown that social-emotional learning can be effective in reducing mental health problems and suicide among students. And it’s not just about preventing problems; it’s also about fostering a compassionate school culture where students feel safe and cared for.

Early detection is crucial when it comes to mental well-being. Empowering teachers with the necessary knowledge, attitudes, skills and tools to recognise the signs of distress can help prevent more severe problems from developing. Students’ needs can be noticed promptly, and teachers can proactively reach out to the students and offer support.

For example, one activity we organised as part of our work with partner schools was held on class resumption day, in which students freely expressed their feelings about the suspension of in-person classes during the pandemic. At these sessions, teachers listened to students’ negative feelings. In one case, an expression of suicidal thoughts was flagged to a social worker for attention.

Such activities put teachers in a position to notice their students’ mental state and individual needs. A simple activity can have a significant impact on students’ emotional well-being.

By developing students’ emotional literacy, we help them build the skills and resilience needed to cope with life’s challenges, from dealing with stress to handling conflicts. Regular check-ins, relationship-building activities and a well-designed curriculum are all important components of a comprehensive social-emotional education programme.

The Education Bureau is also doing its part. Its “Resuming Vibrant Life @School” webpage has a compilation of resources that encourage building connections. We encourage schools and parents to use them.

We have to prioritise the mental health of our young people. By working with policymakers, like-minded educators and parents, as well as investing in the development of social-emotional learning, we can help create a safe and nurturing environment where students feel comfortable talking about their feelings.

Let’s show our children that we care about their emotional well-being and that we are here to support them every step of the way.

Raymond Yang Sze-ngai, co-founder and executive director, Just Feel

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