Psychology in Action

School-based psychological services in Kosovo

Ms. Sulhasi, a licensed clinical psychologist who lives in Kosovo, discusses the School-Based Psychological Services Program — a project she established to improve mental health services at the schools in Kosovo.

By Blerta Sulhasi, MA

After serving at the APA in Washington, D.C., as part of the Hope Fellowship Program (a fellowship that aims to strengthen the role of women in policy and decision-making in the Balkans), I returned to Kosovo to begin establishing the School-Based Psychological Services Program (SBPSP). The purpose of SBPSP is to remove barriers in access to mental health services, and to prevent and treat mental health problems among youth. It lays the foundation for a potential expansion of mental health services in Kosovo‘s schools and aims to improve student academic performance as a result of better health. Specifically, the project has four objectives: 1) to build the capacity of schools to increase prevention and mental health promotion programs and services in the school setting for all students; 2) to increase student access to quality mental health services; 3) to increase all students‘ developmental and academic success; and 4) to convince the Ministry of Education to implement student counseling services across more regions of Kosovo.

The project began with meetings with the principal of the Gymnasium High School — Hajdar Dushi, to finalize details of the project, including: people to be involved, the selection of students, the selection of teachers, identifying meeting space for individual therapy and group meetings with students, and interviewing psychological staff for the program.

The pilot phase of SBPSP began in January 2012 and continued until July 2012. During this time, ten psychologists, four teachers, and six student leaders offered psychosocial services and conducted awareness raising activities for the project. Two psychologists who already worked as regular psychology teachers at Hajdar Dushi also provided counseling to students in need. Teachers and student leaders referred students to the counseling staff or identified them to the counselors.

Though the project is currently being implemented on a voluntary basis, it has the support of executive leadership at Hajdar Dushi in Gjakova and — 17 shkurti‖ in Obiliq, as well as the local Ministry of Education. The APA Women‘s Programs Office, the DC Department of Mental Health and the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools from George Washington University provide technical support and remote supervision to SBPSP. Radio Gjakova gave added support by offering radio airtime and space for SBPSP to promote the pilot project and discuss mental health issues. In addition, a local NGO called Children for Tomorrow—Kosova (CFT) served as a partner to the project.

SBPSP students discussing their mental health concerns during one of the group meetings SBPSP Director Blerta Sulhasi and psychiatrist Henrijeta Pula SBPSP Director Blerta Sulhasi discussing drug addiction on Radio Gjakova

Project activities

Activities of the SBPSP pilot project included group meetings, individual meetings, radio shows and the establishment of a project webpage.

  • Group Meetings. Once a week, groups of students with 10-12 students each, and with two leading psychologists, got together on school ground to discuss mental health concerns. The groups also participated in different psychological activities for seven weeks. Overall, 90 students were involved in these meetings. For more information on these group meetings, please visit Blerta Sulhasi.
  • Individual Sessions. Two psychologists held individual sessions for those students in need of mental health care. The psychologists filling this role were already serving as psychology teachers in the participating school. I served as one of the psychologists and the other was a teacher of psychology at the Hajdar Dushi High School. Students that were referred by teachers or student leaders or were self "walk-ins," could access this service.
  • Project Webpage. The Program‘s Facebook page provides up-to-date information, helping students, parents, mental health professionals and educators promote the mental health of students and conduct awarenessraising about adolescents‘ mental health. On this site, students and parents have access to psychological articles and can find links to mental health resources. This webpage also aims to provide users with tools that prevent and reduce symptoms of mental/emotional health issues. It also encourages users to consider the many ways they can strengthen and promote good mental health skills and recommit themselves to adolescents‘ positive mental health development. As of July 2012, the SBPSP Facebook page has 1,130 followers. Since the SBPSP does not yet have a funding source, this webpage has provided an important way to spread information about the program. Because most of the adolescents and students following the SBPSP Facebook page spend plenty of time on Facebook anyway, the site has been very beneficial and a smart way to advertise without spending money on flyers and posters or other awareness-raising or prevention activities. View the Facebook page.
  • Radio Show. SBPSP aired a weekly Radio Show on Radio Gjakova between February and July 2012. In partnership with Radio Gjakova, SBPSP used the radio program to dramatically increase the reach of SBPSP‘s message and information, especially to adolescents and parents wanting to learn more about psychological issues. SBPSP invited different mental health professionals each week to serve as guest experts. During the first show, I introduced the public to the program and shared my Hope Fellowship Program experiences from Prishtina and Washington, DC. During the second week, SBPSP invited the Executive Director of Children for Tomorrow—Kosova (CFT) onto the show. The Executive Director talked about the NGO‘s activities and gave more information on where Gjakova‘s adolescents can go to find psychological services. We also spoke about the partnership between the School-Based Psychological Services Program and CFT. The next 16 radio shows discussed issues in adolescence, depression, stress, drugs, bullying, aggression, conflict resolution, eating disorders, interpersonal relationships, the role of school psychologists in Kosovo, anxiety, self-esteem and the like. To see pictures from the live taping of the SBPSP radio program, please visit Blerta Sulhasi's website.

To date, this project has serviced more than 100 students in Kosovo from Gjakova and Obiliq, and included 20 individual sessions and 56 weekly group meetings with students. If the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health adopt this program for the long-term, Kosovo will begin to see a real improvement in the mental health of its students.