Time spent at school has significant influence on child and adolescent growth. This project strategizes a mental health first aid founded on Filipino values and culture, fit for helping a Filipino student. It deliberately integrates Sikolohiyang Pilipino - a Filipino worldview rooted in indigenous psychology - and community-based mental health - an approach to mental wellbeing that puts individuals at the driver’s seat, wherein they are empowered to make decisions about their own lives.

phase i: needs assessment

Central to the development of the manual is the active involvement of its users and of those who might benefit from it. The project holds a series of round table discussions (RTDs) for teachers, parents and caregivers, and students. What might mental health problems look like in school, what might be the possible causes of these problems, how are these problems managed by the schoolchildren and teens themselves, their families, and the schools - insights into these topics inform a tailor-fit manual. Preliminary data suggest that there is basic understanding of mental wellbeing, which can offer jumping off points for more advanced training. Teachers also express a wish to promote the mental wellbeing of their students but acknowledge the possible challenges of practicing mental health related skills on top of their other numerous duties - and for many, in a limited-resource school.

phase II: manual development

Feedback from the RTDs as well as key information interviews (KIIs) is foundational to the write-up itself. The manual introduces teachers and other school personnel to mental health in general and to Sikolohiyang Pilipino and community-based mental health in particular. The manual is a how-to reference for recognizing common signs and symptoms of psychological distress among schoolchildren and teens - with indigenous psychology as core for understanding the experience of local students. The manual thus deliberately steers clear of clinical diagnoses or any other “illness” models. It takes a more basic approach for identifying and understanding common feelings, thoughts, and behaviors; for exploring these experiences with students; and for encouraging insight into these feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.

phase III: teacher training

The manual is only useful and effective when well integrated into the skills development of its end-users. Teachers and other school personnel attend a multi-day training. Those who teach grades 7th to 12th, particularly in local public schools, learn how to ask open-ended questions, attend and listen, reflect feelings and thoughts as well as repeat and rephrase statements - all in a supportive way. These skills appear common sense but they are not commonly practiced. They also learn the limitations of these new skills, how to manage suicidal and self-harm behaviors, how to respond in emergency situations, and how to facilitate an integrated referral pipeline. They also learn how to facilitate peer-to-peer support networks. Teacher-centered training is key to upbuilding these skills.