Education programs have been central to reestablishing social norms, rebuilding public educational institutions, and addressing public attitudes toward mental illness in Liberia following a protracted civil war and the Ebola epidemic. The aim of this study was to determine if a program combining an understanding of neuroscience with mental health literacy content could increase teachers’ awareness of students’ mental health issues and produce changes in teacher attitudes and classroom practices. A tiered Training-of-Trainers approach was employed. The first workshop trained 24 Liberian secondary science teachers in the neurobiology of learning, memory, emotions, stress and adolescent brain development. A Leadership Team formed from eight of the Tier I participants then adapted the curriculum, added in more mental health literacy content and led four Tier II workshops and four follow-up Refresher sessions. Participants completed a neuroscience knowledge test and surveys assessing stigma, general perceptions of people with mental illness, and burnout. A subset of Tier II teachers participated in a structured interview at the Refresher time point. Teachers in both tiers acquired basic neuroscience knowledge. Tier I, but not Tier II teachers significantly improved their surveyed attitudes toward people with mental illness. No changes were found in overall teacher burnout. Despite these survey results, the interviewed Tier II teachers self-reported behavioral changes in how they approached their teaching and students in their classrooms. Interviewees described how they now understood social and emotional challenges students might be experiencing and recognized abnormal behaviors as having a biopsychosocial basis. Teachers reported reduced use of verbal and corporal punishment and increased positive rewards systems, such as social and emotional support for students through building relationships. Refresher discussions concurred with the interviewees. In contrast to previous teacher mental health literacy programs which did not bring about a change in helping behaviors, this pilot program may have been successful in changing teacher knowledge and self-reported behaviors, improving teacher–student relationships and decreasing harsh discipline. The combination of basic neuroscience concepts with training on how to recognize mental health issues and refer students should be investigated further as a strategy to promote teacher mental health literacy.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Funding for this project was provided by the UBS Optimus Foundation and the Carter Center.
The authors wish to thank all the participating teachers, the Leadership Team, the Monrovia support staff and the Ministry for Education of Liberia for all their efforts toward making this program a success. The authors would like to thank Joe Wellington Thomas for initial data digitization, S. Kat Foley for code development, and Michael Michlin for statistical consultation. Funding. Funding for this project was provided by the UBS Optimus Foundation and the Carter Center.
© Copyright © 2021 Brick, Cooper, Mason, Faeflen, Monmia and Dubinsky.
- mental health literacy
- stigma reduction
- teacher professional development
- trauma-informed teaching
PubMed: MeSH publication types
- Journal Article