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The Listener: Protecting Youth Mental Health

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease.

One of ACF’s primary focuses is on Taiwan’s education development. Over the years, we recognized the rise in youth depression. In a Taiwan Ministry of Health and Welfare data, it was found that the youth suicide rate between the ages of 15 and 24 was particularly high. Academic pressure, social and family relations as well as the uncertainty of their futures are all contributing factors. The Listener is an initiative that aims to help tackle this matter by working with schools and teachers to empower them to be at the front line of support and prevention.

Friendship Bench

An initiative that expanded to the US, Canada, and other countries, the Friendship Bench was founded in Zimbabwe by Psychiatrist Dr. Dixon Chibanda who created a model that trained talk therapy to over 400 grandmothers in more than 70 communities. Though the grandmothers are not medical professionals, the listening skills they developed through training in 2017 alone helped over 30,000 people.

Inspired by the Friendship Bench, ACF first introduced The Listener to support survivors of the 2018 Hualien Earthquake. We worked with Dwen An Social Welfare Foundation cofounding the Hualien Seven Kilometers to Happiness committee that worked to help survivors heal, overcome post-traumatic stress disorder, and bring life back to the disaster struck area.

Collaborating with Professionals

With youth development, identity and interpersonal relationships affected by the digital age, youth mental health awareness becomes increasingly important. The current skills of Taiwan elementary and secondary school teachers in student counselling are lacking, and with the small number of school counsellors available in each school, they are not enough to serve all students in need. The Listener aims to tackle this issue by working with professionals to create a series of videos focusing on helping young teachers learn listening, youth engagement, classroom management, and parent-teacher communication skills. ACF invites Psychologist and Professor of Psychology Dr. May Chen, Counselling Psychologist Jhih Heng Chen, and Principal of Fu-Xing High School Kuei-Kuang Liu as consultants.

Series 1: Listening Skills

Developed by Psychologist and Professor of Psychology Dr. May Chen, the series focuses on listening, stressors, emotion, self-awareness, and communication. As a Clinical Psychologist, listening is Dr. Chen’s specialty, and with her knowledge on brain science and cognitive psychology she is an expert on helping people better understand themselves.

With countless credentials today, Dr. Chen did not enjoy studying as a child. She is reflective that the attention and care of one teacher, who took the time to get to know her, her living and learning conditions, made a key difference in her life.

Series 2: Understanding Youths & Youth Engagement Skills

The Understanding Youths & Youth Engagement series was developed by Counselling Psychologist Jhih Heng Chen. The series covers the understanding of adolescence. It gives insight into how hormones create emotional and unintentional behavioral change. It discusses the meaning behind the behaviors – how rebellion is a period of transition into independence and maturity, and how having a sense of self-worth, belonging, and independence are major psychological needs in adolescence. It shares the five basic indicators of youth mental health decline which include increased anxiety, sadness, confusion, or change in diet and sleep. It shares the knowhow to support and communicate with youths in their adolescence.

In a 2018 study by the John Tung Foundation, it found that among 13.3% of high school students from Taipei, New Taipei City, Taoyuan, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung who showed obvious signs of depression and needed professional help, only 1% sought emotional counselling.

Series 3: Classroom Management Skills Developed by the Principal of Fu-Xing High School Kuei-Kuang Liu, the third series focuses on classroom management. In this series, Principal Liu shares how when children feel safe, understood and respected they are willing to open up. Classroom management includes building trusting relationships between teachers and students, cooperative and altruistic relationships among peers, and good partnerships between teachers and parents. Methods to manage students in different occasions, methods to manage a new classroom, online classroom management, and how teachers should form close partnerships with parents are all topics covered in the series. Series 4: Introduction to Special Education Developed by Special Education Teacher Chi-Kuan Cyu, the forth series covers the understanding of youths with special education needs. It gives teachers insight into how to handle the learning, emotional and interpersonal relationships of the youths. It discusses the meaning behind their behaviors and how teachers can form trusting relationships with students and parents. It shares the knowhow of classroom management as well as social-emotional learning as a tool to support teachers. Perhaps the key element to protect youth mental health is parents. Parents should serve as the guiding light for their children. Listening parents can not only give children the support they need to withstand emotional pressures, they can also help uncover their child’s talents and interests and guide them towards a future direction. Dr. Chen reflects how without The Listener she had had in her childhood, she would not have been the person she is today. The Listener website will be launched by the end of August 2021. The series will be made available for free online to the public.


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