The Sri Lanka Psychological Association (SLPA), in collaboration with U-TTEC Lab of the University of Utah, will be hosting a series of online programmes on the topic of “Supporting the Mental Health Needs of Children in the Sri Lankan School Context”, from 6 February to 13 March 2021.
The programmes will span six weeks and will be conducted via Zoom from 3.30 p.m. to 5.30 p.m. (every Saturday). The programmes will be conducted in the Sinhala language, provided that many such resources regarding mental health and wellbeing often tend to be in English and are, therefore, not widely available to Sri Lankan educators.
The SLPA is a professional body that brings together qualified psychologists, students, university officials, members of the community, and a broad range of social scientists with the objective of ensuring the expansion of psychology as a discipline and profession in Sri Lanka.
SLPA President Dr. Kanthi Hettigoda shared with us that the goal is the expansion of psychology as a discipline while safeguarding the professional rights of the community and ensuring that the community engages in their professional practices, adhering to acceptable ethical standards of conduct.
The SLPA consists of 120 qualified psychologists presently and is expected to grow exponentially in the immediate future. The Association is an adhering member of the International Union of Psychological Sciences (IUPsyS) and one of the signatories to the Asia Pacific Association of Psychological (APAP). It has also collaborated with and been supported by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the British Psychological Society (BPS) on numerous occasions.
Dr. Hettigoda shared that in Sri Lanka, the programme is conducted in order to provide guidance and assistance for counsellors, school teachers, and school counsellors as a support system and to strengthen their ability to carry out their tasks as educators. She said the SLPA has been dedicated to providing for the mental health needs of children in Sri Lankan through various programmes, more recently with a programme where they held a series of sessions entirely on positive parenting.
At this current programme, they hope to host six programmes with six individual speakers, all spread out through six weeks to maximise attendance and allow for a broader range of educators to make use of this opportunity.
Taking us through each session, she said the first one would be a general panel which will give an introduction to what is to come as well as an introduction to get familiar with the subject matter before diving head-first into the content. The second day will feature a session addressing schoolchildren and their mentality including behavioural issues, given that in Sri Lanka, nearly 13.8% of students from Grade Seven to Grade 11 suffer from mental and behavioural issues.
She also said that as per Rochanachandra, 2019, which took into consideration data gathered at a leading psychiatric institute, the majority of the children brought for treatment showed that many were suffering from undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and resulting academic performance issues and learning difficulties.
The third session will address problems currently faced due to Covid-19 times, posing a unique situation which must be tackled in its own way. She said that they will be addressing the importance of teachers having to be alert, adding that they must be shown some guidance on how to remain vigilant of the mental status of their students. To spot the symptoms, as to whether the child is distressed, they will be bringing in child adolescent and counseling psychologist Apeksha Hewageegana to conduct this session.
The fourth session will refer to the understanding of emotional intelligence of children, while day five will feature a very important and under-discussed topic of concern, which is supporting teachers about their self-care in exercising compassion for oneself.
The sixth and final session is a study of the law; the legal discussion will be for teachers to get to know the mechanisms and the procedure they must follow with regard to what to do if their students are being abused. Dr. Hettigoda said that it is important to know what to do and not to do, as often teachers, when they get to know that their students are exposed to abuse or violence, tend to not know the next first step. When teachers find out about such incidents, they tend to inform parents, sometimes then letting neighbours know. This then creates a host of other problems. Therefore, the session will particularly focus on how to seek assistance and a solution to protect the child, while also maintaining the child’s dignity.