‘Thalir’ was launched in capital district three years ago

The Health Department has decided to scale up the School Mental Health Programme, currently implemented in Thiruvananthapuram, to all districts from this academic year.

‘Thalir,’ the school mental health project being implemented as part of the District Mental Health Programme (DMHP) in Thiruvananthapuram for the past three years, has been chosen as the model for replication across the State. The training of personnel to lead the programme in other districts is expected to start this month itself.

The programme is being scaled up across the State utilising a part of the funds — Rs.20 crore — allocated to Kerala by the Union Ministry of Health for the implementation of a Comprehensive Mental Health Programme in the State under the 12th Plan. Each district will be allocated Rs.39 lakh for implementing Thalir, while the rest is to be utilised for mental health rehabilitation projects in districts.

‘Thalir’ is one of the successful targeted intervention programmes launched by the DMHP in the district. It has covered over 22,000 students in 112 schools. The programme aims at the holistic development of schoolchildren by making them aware of the importance of mental health along with physical well-being, offering them counselling, and addressing behavioural issues.

The programme works in coordination with the Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health programme and the School Health Programme being implemented in schools by the National Rural Health Mission.

Acting as a link

“We train school counsellors and School Junior Public Health Nurses to be the link between students and teachers and the DMHP unit. Thalir is implemented as a total package for teachers, parents and students,” says P.S. Kiran, nodal officer for DMHP.

Counsellors and teachers receive training from the panel of resource persons of the DMHP on how to identify problems among children and how to respond to these as part of the programme. School counsellors receive continuous training inputs from DMHP team.

Focus areas

‘Thalir’ focusses on addressing behaviour and emotional issues among children, helping them stay away from substance abuse, suicide prevention, stress management, life-skills education, and also managing childhood problems like learning disability and conduct disorder. Students are encouraged to seek help from school counsellors.

As part of scaling up the programme across State, counselling centres will be opened in 1,926 schools this year.

Private schools have not been excluded from the programme, though government schools will have the priority.

K.O. Ratnakaran, Principal of Navodaya Vidyalaya, Vithura, points out that most parents are aware of the psychological stressors that children are up against. Demand for regular school-based counselling has been coming from parents themselves.

“As teachers, we are trained to recognise issues that children may have but as part of Thalir, all of us were given a new perspective into the way children react psychologically to problems. The issues of today’s children certainly require a more sensitive handling,” Dr. Ratnakaran says.

“In the initial year, we had a lot of trouble persuading schools to take up the programme. In the second year, though more schools were willing to try it out, they were not keen on involving teachers and parents. But we do not offer ‘Thalir’ to schools if the teachers or PTAs are not willing to be part of the programme, because parents and teachers play a crucial role in moulding a child’s personality and attitude,” says Dr. Kiran.