The psychological health and wellbeing of our children are always important. Mental health is a serious issue in Australian schools, and it shouldn't be ignored.
Mission Australia released a report that shared statistics about the mental health of young people in Australia from the year 2012 to 2016. The results showed that females (age 15-19) were around twice as likely as males to meet the criteria for a Probable Serious Mental Illness (PSMI). The figure for girls is at 28.6% whereas the number for boys rose from 12.7% to 14.1% in 2016. The highest figure of PSMI respondents was at 31% which belonged to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Mental health issues are becoming more common among teenagers and part of the reason is that it's often silenced. It's important to start having "the conversation" with children about mental health. This helps encourage them to speak up about the issue and to seek help if they're ever experiencing negative mental health.
The Good Schools Guide takes a closer look at how the Australian education system is tackling mental health in schools across the country.
The Department of Education in Queensland aims to promote a safe learning environment in all schools across the state. It is the primary responsibility of the principal to ensure systems are in place to promote and support the health and wellbeing of students at school.
Schools in Queensland focus on the mental health and wellbeing of students by implementing strategies such as early intervention, suicide prevention, suicide postvention and specialised intervention and case management.
Schools also address the problem by implementing targeted curriculum activities to promote positive wellbeing. If there is a suicidal or mental health crisis, schools must call 000 when there is an imminent threat to the safety of a student. In all other situations, schools follow suicide intervention and prevention advice by ensuring:
• The student is not left alone
• Maintain their safety and the safety of other students
• Students receive appropriate support immediately
• Parents are advised
• All incidents are documented and reported
The Victorian government has several strategies to approach mental health in Victorian schools. Schools maintain a positive environment by inviting parents to education programs, promoting group work and collaboration and creating awareness on how bullying affects negative interactions and relationships.
By 2022, the government will install professional mental health practitioners in every Victorian government school. In the meantime, the government has provided all the necessary resources to help schools with crisis responses and recovery planning when a student faces mental health issues.
How Victorian schools enhance mental health support:
• One-on-one student counselling in secondary schools delivered by Headspace
• Psychological support sessions conducted by Student Support Services (SSS) staff
• Headspace program, SAFEMinds to train all primary and secondary school staff to increase their foundational knowledge of mental health.
The NSW Department of Education aims to create a community that nurtures good mental health in schools. The NSW government has partnered with schools across the state to provide a venue called “School-Link”. School-Link provides specialist mental health services to students through individual and group consultations. The students have early access to specialist mental health services as the program believes it can strengthen the early identification of mental health issues among young people.
The government also provides different special programs to children, teens and their families. These programs include:
The NSW School-Link Initiative provides the capacity for NSW Health and the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) to work together to improve the mental health, wellbeing and resilience of children and young people in NSW.
The program is an early intervention mental health program for children in Kindergarten to Year 2 and their parents and carers.
The Whole Family Teams aims to prevent vulnerable families from falling through service gaps. The service includes alcohol clinicians working together in multidisciplinary teams to provide all necessary services to a family in-home environment for about six months.
The program provides a state-wide service to mothers who experience mental illness and issues where they face parenting difficulties. The program provides support and helpful resources to struggling mothers.
According to the government of Western Australia, every student has access to school psychologists and counselling. Many schools have already set their own strategies to navigate mental health problems among students.
Non-profit organisations have partnered with Australian schools to provide frameworks and relevant resources to help students with mental health.
WA has primary and secondary level mental health programs, including:
• Kids Matter for primary students is a flexible, whole-school approach to children’s mental health and well-being. Developed by Beyond Blue and is part of the Be You program, it is a national implementation that aims to help children in Western Australia understand that their mental health is important. The main goal is to teach students’ strategies to cope with emotional issues.
• MindMatters for secondary students. Like KidsMatter, MindMatters is a national mental health initiative that aims to improve mental health and wellbeing among young students. Also developed by Beyond Blue, the program provides schools with tools and resources to help students understand mental health. MindMatters offers online resources, face-to-face events and webinars to students.
In South Australia, health promotion is an integral part of a child’s education. The Department for Education in South Australia conducts a wellbeing and engagement collection (WEC) survey to examine non-academic factors that impact the learning engagement of students in years four to nine. The reason for the survey is to find out what drives children to bring out the best version of themselves, to improve learning opportunities and promote positive development. It also provides insight into a child's mind and allows their voice to be heard.
The goal of the Department of Education in Tasmania is to ensure that students and children feel safe and supported so they can engage in school. Recently, the Tasmanian government built a 2018-2021 framework that focuses on strategies that maintain the wellbeing of students across schools. The framework puts mental health at schools in the spotlight and aims to provide accessible mental health resources to students while ensuring their physical, mental and emotional needs are met. Here are some examples of the action plan that are outlined in the framework,
• Improve student access to Professional Support Staff to support their wellbeing
• Improve family engagement across the Department of Education to support children
• Conduct wellbeing surveys in 2019 to find out the current wellbeing of students
• Create a safe and inclusive studying environment free from bullying
• Build a new curriculum in alignment with the Health and Physical Education Curriculum
• Promote mental health first aid training directed at youth for students and staff.