High schools to begin mental health education amid rise in suicides

Japan will from next spring revive mental health education in high schools, axed four decades ago, following a record number of youth suicides and concerns over the stressful effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Under the government’s new curriculum guidelines for senior high schools, health and physical education textbooks for use in spring 2022 will feature descriptions of prevention and coping methods to help mentally distressed students deal with problems.

Emiko Michigami, a 60-year-old school nurse at Saitama Prefectural Soka Higashi High School, is a faculty member already on the frontlines looking for ways to best handle the mental health education of her students.

Photo shows Emiko Michigami, a school nurse at Saitama Prefectural Soka Higashi High School, teaching her students about mental disorders in a class in February 2021. (Kyodo)

“Do you feel stressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic? Mental instability can occur with anyone and needs to be dealt with efficiently,” Michigami told some 40 first-year students in her class for mental health in February.

Mental ailments tend to happen when a person’s daily life is disrupted, Michigami said. Referring to government data, he points out that mental disorders can affect one in five people.

As a member of the School Mental Health Project, Michigami has been involved in the preparation of educational teaching aids related to mental health. She began to offer an annual comprehensive course on mental health at her high school in Soka, Saitama Prefecture, six years ago. So far, some 320 first-year students have attended it.

Noting that some students never realize that stress may be at the root of a health issue they have, Michigami said, “I try to teach them the proper way to deal with their problems.”

In her class, Michigami has students roleplay giving advice to their friends and urging them to freely visit the school’s healthcare office for consultations instead of dealing with mental health problems alone.

Photo shows Emiko Michigami (C). (Kyodo)

She gets students to write down their feedback on a worksheet, which she shares with other teachers at the school, so the faculty can work together to ensure students are looking after properly.

The new curriculum guidelines have added “prevention of and recovery from mental disorders” for health and physical education.

Students will not only learn about the mechanics of mental illness but also that anyone is susceptible and that there is a higher likelihood of recovery if the disease is detected and treated in the early stages.

The school textbooks describe, among other content, celebrities’ experiences of recovering from depression and mental disorders as well as methods of coping with stress.

Photo shows a health and physical education textbook that will be used in Japanese high schools from spring 2022. (Kyodo)

According to the Japan Sports Agency, schools scrapped the mental illness category from the curriculum in fiscal 1982.

But as depression and other mental illnesses are considered a reason for an increase in suicides in recent years among elementary, junior high, and high school students, a revival of mental health education was deemed necessary to address the current crisis.

Indeed, childhood suicide has become more serious during the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, the number of suicides among elementary, junior high, and high school students reached a record 499, and the pace has accelerated since May.

Multiple studies abroad show that the peak onset of mental illness is in the early teens, according to Tsukasa Sasaki, a professor of health education at the University of Tokyo.

Although he welcomes the revival of mental health education as a mandatory course for senior high school students, Sasaki said it “ideally should be introduced into mandatory education” at elementary and junior high schools.

As classes on mental health education are expected to result in more opportunities for students to seek consultations, Sasaki emphasized that schools need to establish a broad network of cooperation from health and physical education teachers to school nurses and administrative staff.

“The transfer of knowledge alone cannot help distressed children,” Sasaki said.


Emergency service in Japan: 119

If you are having suicidal thoughts, help is available.

For Japan, call Yorisoi Hotline at 0120279338 (toll-free). Press 2 after the recorded message for consultation in English, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog, Portuguese, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese, Nepali, or Indonesian. The service in these languages ​​is also available on Facebook messenger.

For those outside Japan, you can find a list of other resources here.


Related coverage:

Domestic violence consultations in Japan hit record high amid pandemic

Suicides among Japanese students hit record high in 2020

Japan sees record number of children abused in 2020 amid pandemic


Tribal Area Health Education Center Will Address Tribal Health Care Needs, Train Workforce

The Arizona Area Health Education Center (AzAHEC) Program at the University of Arizona Health Sciences recently selected the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care to develop a new American Indian Health AHEC Regional Center dedicated to developing health profession education initiatives and expanding access to health care for tribal communities in Arizona.

The new American Indian Health (AIH) AHEC Regional Center will be the sixth AHEC Regional Center in Arizona. It is the first in the state and one of the few in the US outside of Alaska to focus exclusively on the American Indian health care system and its workforce.

Leila Barraza, JD, MPH, is director of the AzAHEC Program and associate professor of community, environment and policy in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health.

American Indians have some of the highest rates of health disparities, poverty and poor health outcomes when compared with other ethnic and minority communities in the US, according to Indian Health Service.

“Tribes in Arizona experience a serious shortage of health care professionals compared to other regions in the state,” said Leila Barraza, JD, MPH, director of the AzAHEC Program and associate professor of community, environment and policy in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. “The new American Indian Health Regional Center can begin to alleviate some of these shortages by working closely with our tribal health systems and enhancing their current workforce strategies.”

The mission of the AzAHEC Program is “to enhance access to quality health care, particularly primary and preventive care, by improving the supply and distribution of health care professionals through academic community educational partnerships in rural and urban medical underserved areas.”

In collaboration with the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation and Gila River Health Care, the AIH-AHEC Regional Center will implement educational and training activities to improve the supply and distribution of health care professionals within tribal communities.

The AIH-AHEC Regional Center will help build a future health care workforce by providing community-based health professions rotations, assisting with continuing education, supporting health care staff and promoting health care careers for K-12 students.

“This center will host a variety of programs that ensure children and youth are exposed to health care professions from an early age and feel empowered to pursue these professions, equipped with knowledge and cultural competencies critical to directly impact the health of their own communities,” said Kim Russell, director of the Arizona Advisory Council on Indian Health Care. “It will be uniquely positioned to address disparities in concert with the five other AHEC Regional Centers in Arizona, the University of Arizona and the AzAHEC Program leaders and resources across all health professions.”

Dan Derksen, MD, is associate vice president of health equity, outreach and interprofessional activities for UArizona Health Sciences, director of the Center for Rural Health in the Zuckerman College of Public Health, and UAHS AzAHEC Program senior advisor and principal investigator.

It will also host an AHEC Scholars Program, which offers students community-based experiential training in rural or underserved settings.

Additionally, the AIH-AHEC Regional Center will conduct training and coach individuals to become health care providers serving in their home communities. The partners plan to adopt “grow your own” strategies to address the shortage of health care professionals and reduce health disparities in Arizona’s tribal communities.

“The AIH-AHEC Regional Center will be one of the first of its kind in the US outside of Alaska, and align perfectly with the AHEC mission that has been an integral part of the University and Arizona communities for nearly 40 years,” said Dan Derksen, MDassociate vice president of health equity, outreach and interprofessional activities for UArizona Health Sciences, director of the Center for Rural Health in the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, and the UAHS AzAHEC Program senior advisor and principal investigator.

The AIC-AHEC joins five existing AHEC Regional Centers in Arizona:

  • Central Arizona AHEC, housed in the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers in Phoenix that represents 23 community health center systems in 175 sites across the state, and serves as Arizona’s Primary Care Association.
  • Colorado Plateau Center for Health Professions, housed in North Country HealthCare in Flagstaff, with Federally Qualified Health Center sites across northern Arizona’s counties.
  • Eastern Arizona AHEC based in in Globe.
  • Southern Arizona AHEC, housed in El Rio Health with 14 FQHC sites in Pima County.
  • Western Arizona AHEC, housed in the Regional Center for Border Health in Somerton.

In fiscal year 2022, the AzAHEC Program, in collaboration with the existing five AHEC Regional Centers in Arizona and the nine Rural Health Professions Programs, provided 2,983 community-based experiential training rotations for 1,527 health professions students in Arizona. In fiscal year 2021, the AzAHEC Program provided 10% of the total rotations provided by all 56 AHEC programs in the nation.

Congress authorized the federal AHEC Program in 1971. There are 56 AHEC Programs and 236 Regional Centers in 47 states.