Spirituality and religious involvement benefit mental health in school settings

Haa MP Ugyen Namgay



While efforts are currently underway on unpacking and tackling growing mental health challenges, religious and spiritual interventions can contribute real benefits for mental health in school settings.

Given the magnitude of public health problems, school-based religious education on mental health has found positive effects to reduce its occurrence and influence adolescent mental health.

As the national council’s social and cultural affairs committee presented its review report on mental health issues and suicide in Bhutan” in the ongoing national council session, a committee member, Haa Member of Parliament (MP) Ugyen Namgay emphasized the beneficial influence of religion on mental health.

“The monk graduates recruited for Dzongkha teachings in schools have been instrumental in improving adolescent mental health by organizing religious classes and activities for students,” he said, adding it was found to have maximized the benefits in mental health prevention.

Highlighting the findings, he pointed out that mental health problems were caused amid the pressure of social and economic conditions, the constant demand for academic results, and unhealthy family relationships including the long walking distance for school-going children and child labor.

“For instance, in the southern region where the students have to walk for over two hours, a school-going girl was attempted for rape by a gang,” he added.

The committee reported 36,608 mental disorders and 539 suicide cases from 2016 till October 2021, of which 43 percent were farmers and home-makers, 15 percent were students, and about 7 percent were unemployed. And another 7 percent of the total suicide cases were among employees of the private sector.

Anxiety and depression are the most common problems, with 14 percent followed by unhealthy family relationships and alcohol abuse.

Lack of workplace-based support including rehabilitation centers for addiction and mental health-related disability for recovery and reintegration has caused the problems, especially during the pandemic.

“There are only three rehabilitation centers for mental health all based in Thimphu. Our consultations received the suggestions on the need of centers in regions and districts to support and promote mental health and wellbeing,” he said. 

While the mental health-related services are provided by the clinical counselor in districts and healthcare centers, he said, lack of mental health professionals is a major hindrance in the healthcare system. “Today, there is only one psychologist in the country at the national referral hospital,” he added.

Despite many ongoing efforts from the Ministry of Health (MoH), Ugyen Namgay said, people requiring mental health services have been impeded to avail themselves of the services because of stigma and discrimination associated with mental disorders.

Meanwhile, following the deliberation, the review report was entrusted to the committee to incorporate the additional recommendations of all the members and prepare the final recommendations for adoption on 13 December.