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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 November 2018

UAE mental health project will help young people cope with bullying

Emirates National Schools in Abu Dhabi set to adopt the initiative from January next year

Dr Hesham Hamoda is an Assistant Professor and Faculty Member at the Harvard Medical School and a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital. Victor Besa / The National 
Dr Hesham Hamoda is an Assistant Professor and Faculty Member at the Harvard Medical School and a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Boston Children’s Hospital. Victor Besa / The National 

Parents and academics have welcomed a new pilot project designed to teach pupils how to manage mental health pressures.

Around 70 parents gathered at Emirates National Schools in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to discuss the curriculum which is set to be introduced next year.

Emirates National Schools has partnered with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UAE’s National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) to develop the programme.

The intention is to encourage young people to talk more about the everyday pressures they face, to recognise it in others and to help prepare them for the future.

“It’s important that our children experience schemes like this,” said 49-year-old parent, Hani Al Yazzori.

“They need to know how to react to things like bullying. Perhaps teachers will also become more aware of kids who bully others in school.”

The initiative - called the mental health and life skills programme - will be delivered primarily in Arabic with a separate course for English-language classes.

Emirates National Schools is a private operator of three secondary schools that are attended mostly my Emirati boys and girls.

Research shows around one in five children and adolescents suffer from a mental health disorder. Half of all mental health difficulties begin before the age of 14.

Dr Hesham Hamoda, a consultant of child and adolescent psychiatry at Boston Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said there was an obvious need to better prepare young people for the future.

He said the curriculum would also help equip teachers with the tools they needed to diagnose a potential problem in their pupils.

“A lot of it is about prevention and promotion - how to create a school culture that promotes self-expression, dialogue and helps deal with problems in a non-violent way,” he said.

In the case of bullying, Dr Hamoda said the programme would teach bystanders who might witness bullying how to intervene.

“It’s also about empowering the life skills of bystanders,” he said.

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Heba Al Meslet, an Emirati mother-of-three, said she hoped the initiative would tackle what she described as the growing issue of addiction.

The 33-year-old housewife cited how children hooked on online gaming often copied the inappropriate behaviour seen in the games.

“Many parents are concerned about online games which are hard to control,” she said.

“My fourth-grade daughter manages to access things on the internet that I don’t even know how to access.”

Ahmad Al Bastaki, deputy director general of the Emirates National Schools, said the plan was to have the programme up and running by January next year.

If the project is successful, the intention is to roll it out across the country and even the region.

“We want to introduce the idea with the help of parents and we’ll be conducting workshops for the parents and teachers before implementing it,” he said.