By Tor Levin Hofgaard

President of the Norwegian Psychological Association

It is not often that we see political initiatives turned into government policies within a year.  That happened in Norway this year.

The project – “The book that is missing” – aiming to introduce psychology to the school curriculum was launched by an alliance of psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, pupils and patients organizations in Norway last year.

Kids in Norwegian schools learn all about their physical health.   Physical activity, bodily functions, nutrition and propagation learning have been natural and even important parts of Norwegian syllabus for generations.

The object of all education is to give children tools with which they are better equipped to master their lives. But the book of psychology, the ABC of thoughts, feelings and behaviour is not befound in the schoolbag of Norwegian children.

This is why six organizations, among them The Norwegian Psychiatrists and the Norwegian Psychologist Associations last year signed a petition asking the school authorities and the Ministry of Education to change the  syllabus and put psychology into the curriculum.

It is the opinion of the six organisations, which include both pupil and teacher-associations, mental health organisations and professional health workers’ associations, that giving our young people knowledge about normal psychological behaviour will make them more inclined to make better choices in life. The kids need this know-how to be able to understand themselves as well as others.

The Norwegian school system has traditionally prioritized teaching pupils about health, both physical and dental health. Easy to understand as infectious diseases was the number one risk to public health during the last century.

But today – according to the World Health Organisation, WHO, it is the non-transmittable diseases, lifestyle diseases, that threaten public health, and mental health constitutes the most serious threat of all.

This is why we think it is about time that the school system takes its share of responsibility. It is necessary that our society acknowledges that basic knowledge of thoughts, feelings and actions, and understanding relations are as important to well-being and good health as knowledge about vitamins, sanitation and anatomy. How the three affect us and how we experience life

It is evidence based that educating young people about mental issues is smart – reducing both bullying in schools, suicide statistics and social anxiety.

So – what do we think children need to learn? Without aspiring to give the kids the basic university course we think that the following are important watchwords:

  • Attitudes– Why do we have preconceived notions about the world and our surroundings? What is stereotypes and prejudices
  • Actions – How do we control and regulate our behaviour
  • Identity: Who am I? What makes me into me? Heritage or environments?, The need for natural and necessary variation, gender and ethnicity
  • The brain – systems and functions, hormones etc.
  • Feelings – about emotions and mood: joy, anger, anguish, contempt, jealousy

Why do we have these feelings?

  • Thoughts – about cognitive activity, how do we reflect and find meaning and causality?
  • Social activity – how do we connect, form empathy and relations. What are the arenas? Family, school, working place, hobbies, leisure, sports and social media.
  • Positive factors that influence you – Education, income, care, social support systems and networks, friends. Sense of meaning and gratification
  • Negative factors: Poverty, conflicts, bullying and isolation, abuse of any kind, harassment, trauma and sense of loss, weak social support

The project gained momentum this spring.

The Minister of Education, although initially a sceptic for fear of crowding the curriculum, has presented his suggestions to the Parliament in April. He now acknowledges that mental health is the natural next step in Norwegian schools, and has proposed that mental health and the art of coping with life will be introduced into all schools subjects.   This proposition has now passed Parliament.

It is all about building the mental capital in our young ones, and about preventing mental health issues. We owe it to the next generation to give them proper knowledge and the right tools, don’t we?


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