Four new counsellors will be joining local schools to help students facing mental health issues, Minister for Education Dr John Cortes said yesterday.
Dr Cortes made the announcement as he opened a training seminar titled “Mental Health, Social and Emotional Wellbeing in Special and Additional Needs” at the University of Gibraltar.
While the actual details are still under discussion, it is envisaged two counsellors will work with the secondary schools while two will dedicate their time working with the local primary schools.
The counsellors will work closely with the GHA’s mental health team and the child psychologist.
Dr Cortes said the Government has begun to implement several recommendations to help address mental health issues in education but indicated that more action is needed.
He said: “The education system is very much a key platform for developing healthy citizens of the future from a physical, social and mental perspective, with training such as this expected to contribute towards this long-term aim.”
“The current mental health initiative is aimed at improving the ability of teachers to identify and respond to MH issues in the children you teach.”
“Of course many do this every day. Of course they are equipped to assist and guide. And they do so much, as I well know.”
“But where do they go from here?”
“What in-house support is there for mental health counselling by people who are trained and full-time counsellors to support the teachers, to allow teachers to reach out, to give the young people a point of reference that can guide them through the issues, resolve them, or make them cope better.”
“Actually, none. And it is just not good enough.”
The announcement was welcomed by the Director of Education Jacqueline Mason.
She said: “What is happening is absolutely amazing. It means that expectations have been raised and those have been realistically met.”
“It means we are being proactive and not just reactive.”
“There is no point in having brilliant new technological buildings with a wonderful structure but not have the infrastructure within the profession for these children as they develop mental health issues.”
“Or rather as we hope that in addressing them when they are very young, they will not manifest to such an extent later on.”
Dr Cortes said the Department of Education will immediately start taking steps to recruit four full-time, fully qualified counsellors to work exclusively in schools.
“The benefits to young people as they develop, and the long-term benefits to our community of being able to assist children with mental health issues will be tremendous,” Dr Cortes added.
Meanwhile, Health and Care Minister Neil Costa said: “I have no doubt that that this much-needed service will prove extremely beneficial in providing structured communication between education and the GHA’s Mental Health Services in order to identify, as soon as possible, pupils that may benefit from therapeutic, psychological or psychiatric services.”
“This deeper collaboration reflects our strongly held view that preventative medicine is best.”