National Institute of Mental Health (NUDZ) and UNICEF, in partnership with WHO, launch programme to address mental health and psychosocial well-being of primary school students and teachers in the Czech Republic
The programme aims to equip teachers with the skills to support children's mental health and contribute to the inclusion of Ukrainian children in Czech schools.
The number of children and adolescents with mental health issues has grown in recent years. According to WHO, up to 14% of children and adolescents aged 10-19 experience some form of mental illness, with half of the symptoms appearing before the age of 14. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing mental health issues among children.
The war in Ukraine has deepened the need for psychosocial support and mental health services. The refugee experience poses a significant mental health challenge for more than 8 million people from Ukraine who have fled the country.
"Approximately one in seven children struggle with mental health issues. Mental health in schools has not received much attention until recently. The war in Ukraine has highlighted this need - since the war began, almost 40,000 children from Ukraine have entered Czech primary schools. In addition to the trauma associated with war and involuntary migration, these children face a language barrier - only 10% of children speak the language. This is also one of the reasons, they rarely participate in leisure activities," explains Petr Winkler, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health.
This is why the Czech Republic’s National Institute of Mental Health (NUDZ) and UNICEF, in cooperation with WHO, developed a project to address the mental health and psychosocial needs of both refugees and their host communities. The aim is to improve wellbeing in Czech primary schools and to train teachers to be supportive to both their current and newly arriving students.
"At the beginning of the project, we did thorough research and analysis of what challenges each group most often faces. Teachers can often struggle with exhaustion or burnout as they have a number of students with significantly different needs. Some teachers do not know exactly how to respond when dealing with pupils who have been through a highly stressful event. That’s why the teachers interviewed wanted to learn more about trauma, its manifestations and how to respond to it, how to react when a pupil has a panic attack and how to prevent burnout syndrome themselves," says Anna Kagstrom from the National Institute of Mental Health. The most common needs of pupils are inclusion to the local community and understanding of their surroundings. They also need to feel there are options for support where they can turn for help.
"Children and adolescents affected by war and humanitarian crises face complex challenges that can have a significant impact on their mental health. Equipping teachers with skills to promote and provide the necessary psychosocial support for children and adolescents is critical. UNICEF is pleased to partner with NUDZ in supporting children build their psychosocial resilience and expanding access to psychosocial support services in schools.” says Rita Neves, Head of the Child Protection Unit at UNICEF Refugee Response Office in the Czech Republic.
"The past few years have been difficult, especially for children. First because of the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and now because of the war in Ukraine. We are aware of the importance of this large-scale inclusive project aimed at children and adolescents from the Czech Republic and those coming from Ukraine. The interventions carried out by the school teachers are essential in maintaining the mental well-being of children or recommending specialized services," said WHO Humanitarian Project Coordinator Roksolana Kulchynská.
In the new training project, teachers are offered a one-day training, free of charge, where they will get information on how to work with children who have been through challenging events, build empathy, manage difficult situations and communicate openly, and how to take care of themselves. The training is comprehensive, which has been appreciated by the first batch of participants: 90% of them rate the training with 5 stars, and 93% would recommend the training to colleagues. Participants especially appreciated the high level of expertise and the quality of the presentation and teaching materials. "I definitely took away a lot. Initially I expected it to be very theoretical and generic, but in the end, I got a lot of materials that are interesting, easy to understand and can be immediately put into practice. Mental health concerns everyone - everyone has some problems, whether they are bigger or smaller, it is important to pay attention to them," says Marek Mikš, a school psychologist and graduate of the seminar in Prague.
Experts from the National Institute of Mental Health plan to train 600 teaching staff by the end of May 2023. The project is intended primarily for teachers of students aged 10-14 and training sessions are planned across the Czech Republic. A list of dates can be found at https://dzda.cz/skoleni/ and in addition to the dates already announced, a seminar can also be organized on request.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit https://www.unicef.org/eca/.