THE article titled "Give children space to be themselves" (NST, Nov 22) should give much food for thought to Malaysian parents who are imposing too much expectations on their school-going children.
The recent human interest reports of how pressured students reacted while waiting for their Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah clearly showed more and more schoolchildren today are affected by mental health problems.
The question asked was what could possibly be more devastating for a 12-year-old not performing up to expectations in the UPSR?
There was a student who ran away and hid in the school hall when he taught he had failed to secure 5As but turned out he did.
Incidents such as these and several others involving something worse, such as suicidal tendencies must be dealt with.
The issue of mental health among students must be addressed. If they do not get our help, our nation is going to be burdened with a generation suffering from serious mental health problems.
We cannot deny that our examination-oriented education system has led to parents pressuring their children to perform in school.
Even if parents say they don't pressure their children, children can pick up on their parents' high expectations, and in turn, set high expectations for themselves.
When they fail, they take it badly.
We need to instil self-confidence in the child so that any failures or disappointments will be seen as opportunities to try again rather than as a lack of ability.
Let not Malaysia end up like our neighbouring country not so long ago when a survey carried out among schoolchildren between the ages of 10 and 12 found that they were more afraid of failing tests and examinations than of their parents or guardians dying.
In Malaysia, the Third National Health and Morbidity Survey 2006 indicated that 11.2 per cent of adults in the country have some form of psychological distress or mental disorder at any one time.
The same study on children and adolescents (aged between 5 and 16) indicated a higher rate at 20.3 per cent.
Mental health promotion can be carried out in schools to prepare students to face stress, especially when sitting examinations.
Among the activities that can be implemented in schools include promoting mental health literacy through talks, exhibitions and quizzes that can be held as extra-curricular activities involving Parent-Teacher Associations and school clubs.
Schools need to have more trained counsellors to guide and help students on how to handle stress.
The Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, under the Health Ministry, had recommended that both the Health and Education ministries undertake studies to determine the state of mental health of school children.
The study, named "Healthy Mind Programme", aims to conduct screening for symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress among students in schools.
The findings should enable the government to gauge the actual state of mental health among students and decide on the best course of action to address mental health issues in schools.
Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, Member, Mental Health Promotion Advisory Council, Kuala Lumpur New Straits Times Letters to the Editor 02 December 2012