For most people, mental health issues emerge when they’re young – half of all mental disorders surface by the time we’re 14 years old, and 75% by 25 years old.
The COVID-19 pandemic and its associated lockdowns and school closures drove a surge in mental health concerns in 2020, particularly among children and adolescents. A report by Headspace, Australia’s youth mental health foundation, conducted in mid-2020, found that one in three young people surveyed reported high or very high levels of psychological distress.
Promoting mental health and wellbeing in schools supports better educational outcomes, builds resilience and provides students with the skills and confidence to seek mental health help early if it’s required.
Schools that effectively promote mental health and wellbeing generally observe the following practices.
Taking a whole-of-school approach
A whole-school approach sees school leaders, teachers, staff and parents coming together to support and embed a safe and inclusive learning culture and environment.
Common aspects include:
- • providing social and emotional skills programs
- • providing timely support for students with additional needs
- • involving students and families in decision making
Creating an environment of belonging, connectedness and respect
Students who feel connected to their peers, teachers and other school staff are more engaged with their learning and more likely to maintain social and emotional wellbeing. Schools can create an environment of inclusiveness by identifying students at risk of social exclusion and supporting them to build positive connections within the school community.
Building students’ personal and social capacity
Students must learn to recognise and regulate emotions, develop empathy for others and establish a framework for building positive relationships. By growing their personal and social capacity, students will learn how to work effectively in teams, develop leadership skills, and handle challenging situations. The Victorian Department of Education and Training website has a number of resources and learning materials to support the development of personal and social capacity.
Focusing on resilience
Resilience allows students to cope when faced with negative events, challenges or adversity. Schools can support students to develop resilience by creating an environment that encourages positive self-regard and gives them a sense of purpose, agency and responsibility. School leaders, teachers and staff should promote and model behaviours like positive coping and problem solving to demonstrate the importance and value of resilience.
Having a daily check-in with vulnerable students
A casual daily check-in with vulnerable students allows teachers to track and monitor changes in their engagement and academic performance, while showing these students that the people around them care about them. A brief conversation can confirm a student is comfortable getting on with their school day, or flag that more support may be needed.
With the head of the Australian Psychological Society, Dr Zena Burgess, describing the number of children presenting with mental health or emotional problems as an “emergency”, schools are looking to bolster their approach to promoting mental health and wellbeing. Key to achieving this is the use of tools, processes and systems designed to track and manage student behaviour and wellbeing measures.
PCSchool’s comprehensive wellbeing module allows schools to embed a holistic approach to student mental health and wellbeing. From providing customised behaviour management workflows to capturing sensitive student welfare information, it provides end-to-end support and oversight. Schools can access detailed reporting and analytics to identify and explore patterns and trends by gender, year level, presenting problem and more.