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UAE mental health project will help young people cope with bullying

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.