Kosovo observes Mental Health Month in 2013

The School-Based Psychological Services Program in Kosovo participated in May’s Mental Health Month by initiating a variety of activities to raise awareness about mental health issues.

By Blerta Sulhasi, MA

Blerta Sulhasi and a group of high school students carry signs cautioning against drug abuseThe School-Based Psychological Services Program (SBPSP) of Kosovo joined the USA in observing Mental Health Month this May by raising awareness about students’ mental health issues and emphasizing the importance of psychologists in Kosovar schools. The SBPSP’s campaign reached many people through television, radio, newspapers, magazines, community events and social media.

In Kosovo, there is an urgent need to promote and improve mental health care programming, including treatment and awareness programs. There are more people than ever who need psychological services. Kosovo is going through a period of rapid transitional development and economic hardship, adding to the unresolved war trauma many continue to experience. Collectively, these challenges weigh heavily on the psychological state of Kosovo. Yet, Kosovars largely ignore or neglect mental health issues. People with mental health needs not only fail to deal with their symptoms, but they live in isolation and feel stigmatized. During this month, we tried to talk openly as a community about mental health with hopes that this would make it easier for people in need to seek out services.

According to psychological studies, it is not enough for children and adolescents to get help from only family members and friends. It is estimated that 20% of adolescents are in need of professional mental health support. Psychologist placement into primary and secondary schools must be done immediately, as it will positively impact students’ environment and academic performance.

A representative from the Ministry of Education and Blerta Sulhasi (right) during a live television discussion on mental healthThrough a team of psychologists, the SBPSP program offers psychosocial services and counseling to adolescents. The purpose of the SBPSP is to remove barriers to accessing mental health services and to prevent mental health issues among youth. It lays the foundation for a potential expansion of mental health services in Kosovo's schools. The SBPSP program was implemented in two high schools, in Gjakova and Obiliq, Kosovo. (An overview of the program was published in the October 2012 issue of Psychology International).

Long-term application and expansion of the SBPSP program into Kosovar schools will contribute to improved academic performance; will reduce disruptive behaviors in the classroom; reduce student absenteeism; reduce student conflict; and increase students’ motivation to study.

Activities

The SBPSP advocacy campaign during Mental Health Month included a variety of actions aimed at changing the major structural and attitudinal barriers to achieving positive mental health outcomes and promoting mental wellness throughout Kosovo. The initiative included many partners — TV and radio stations, local organizations and mental health professionals. Some of the events are listed below:

1. Poster contest

The SBPSP Mental Health Contest asked high school students across Kosovo to develop a poster campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of mental health in people’s lives. The panel of judges include: representatives from the Ministries of Education and of Health, a representative from a local NGO “Kosovar Youth Council” and myself. The poster that is chosen will be used in schools across Kosovo. It is anticipated that through their participation, the students indirectly reduced stigma among their peers.

2. Live TV discussion with a representative from the Ministry of Education

In a live television discussion, a representative from the Ministry of Education and I highlighted issues such as the existing barriers to mental health; the absence of programs for promotion of mental health and prevention of mental disorders in schools; the stigma surrounding mental health difficulties; and the lack of implementation of national mental health policies, plans and legislation. For example, national legislation says that every school with more than 1,500 students should have a psychologist; however, this has yet to be implemented, except at a few schools in the capital city of Kosovo. This debate was hosted and televised by “Bon Bon”, RTV 21.

3. Call to action

The SBPSP program initiated a call to action with the purpose of drawing national attention to the importance of mental health care. This call was prepared for the media in order to bring mental health challenges out of the shadows.

4. TV and radio shows

I spoke on numerous radio and TV shows, at local and national stations, giving educational messages on the importance of mental health. During these programs, I also spoke about the impact of mental health on one’s physical health and encouraged people to talk about mental health issues, highlighting the SBPSP activities in Kosovo schools.

5. Informal lecture about illegal drugs

A group of high school students had an opportunity to attend an informal lecture by psychiatrist Ilir Grezda on “Drugs, Consequences, and Treatment.” On the way to this event, students carried signs with slogans against drugs.

These are only a few of the activities that took place during 2013 Mental Health Month in Kosovo. It is hoped that these events have inspired individuals and organizations in the country to recognize the importance of mental health and join SBPSP in promoting these issues.

The School-based Psychological Services Program (SBPSP) was a part of the Hope Fellowships, a program of the National American Albanian Council. Technical support and remote supervision for the SBPSP was offered by: the American Psychological Association, the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools, and D.C. Department of Mental Health. For more information on Mental Health Month and SBPSP activities in Kosovo, please visit the School-based Psychological Services Program  Facebook page  or send an  email  to the program administrator.