Building a Strong Foundation: Why Mental Health Programs Matter in Secondary Schools

Author – Ada Nnadi
Editor – Ejiro-oghene Paul

The ages of 10–19, which the World Health Organisation classifies as adolescence, is a precarious time. According to the Performance Monitoring for Action (PMA) data sheet, more than 1 in 4 people in Nigeria are adolescents, echoing the World Health Organisation’s data sheet where 1 in 6 people in the world is aged 10–19 years. In Nigeria, most people around this age are in secondary schools, slowly coming into their identities and figuring out where they fit in the grander scheme of an ever-evolving world. The WHO asserts that mental health difficulties, such as emotional and behavioural disorders, suicide and self-harm, emerge and are most prevalent during this time, with adolescents – who will go very far to engage in risk-taking behaviour like substance use. The need for belonging is so strong that they would instead take a health or legal risk and avoid social risk—the risk of being socially excluded from their peers.

Did you know that teenagers in secondary schools in Nigeria spend about eight to nine hours out of their fifteen to eighteen waking hours in school? And if they attend boarding schools, they spend even more time away from home, with only a few months out of a year to spend with their families. It’s clear that school plays a significant role in shaping adolescents’ lives. That’s why it’s essential to have mental health programs as part of the formal education they receive. After all, adolescence is a crucial stage of development, and we should do everything we can to support our youth during this time.

Mental health programs in schools offer an excellent resource for mental health promotion. Activities like talks on resilience building, physical health, practical coping skills, how to provide comfort and the correct language to use for friends and family going through a tough time are all life skills that can be taught in schools.

Research has shown that more than half of all lifetime cases of mental health problems begin by age fourteen, and most adolescents do not get the care that they need. Mental health in an educational environment also serves as a unique point to help with the early detection of mental disorders, as such increasing the chances that the students get the required intervention. Already, research has pointed out how ill-equipped young Nigerians are when it comes to mental health awareness. However, with the establishment of mental health programs in secondary schools, mental health awareness is not only improved, students learn how to mitigate stigma and discrimination therefore enabling them to become more self-aware and empathetic adults. In addition, these programs also ensure that secondary school students act as a propelling force for promoting progressive and empathetic values regarding mental health and its related problems in their communities.

I have a call to action for you that has read to this point; you can join a team that is actively working to improve mental health knowledge in schools by reaching out to the LagosMiND team. Or if you’re searching for professional help about a concerning event, kindly send an email to us at

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