Mental health issues are becoming increasingly important both socially and economically – and this is a point most schools already have on their radar.
With nine out of 10 independent schools implementing well-being programs, principals are in a strong position to make the case that they are providing long-term cost savings for governments.
However, a well-being program is only as good as its scope.
While educators exercise their duty of care by keeping a watchful eye over students in the classroom and playground, some issues that students encounter are outside schools’ periphery.
For example, a recent report by NAB Economics found that family conflict and breakdown are the biggest reported drivers of anxiety among children.
Adolescent psychologist, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, noted that as such, “the missing piece for many schools is parent education”.
So are schools doing enough in this space?
One of the report’s authors, Dean Pearson, NAB’s head of behavioural & industry economics, told The Educator that he was surprised by what schools said impacted children the least in regards to their well-being, such as their future, world problems, the environment and money.
“While not to diminish the importance of these issues, I don’t think children are as concerned about the ‘future’ as we [their parents] are. What really impacts childhood well-being is much closer to home – family conflict or breakdown,” he said.
Pearson said he was “struck” by the numerous comments made by schools advising children that that their test results do not define their worth as people.
“Schools are not just helping our children at an academic level but are dealing with the issue of anxiety head on – promote what you are doing to parents and the wider community,” he said.
Pearson said the biggest reported difference between the well-being of secondary school boys and girls was the pressure that girls felt in regards to their looks/appearance.
“Clearly anything more that can be done to address body image issues and social media pressures should be encouraged,” he said.
He said that while boys had lower levels of reported anxiety, there were many comments around lower levels of engagement among boys.
“Perhaps there is scope to find new ways to capture the attention of boys in the learning process?” Pearson suggested.
“The responses to the statement: ‘I wish my students know and understand that…’ produced so many positive, life-affirming comments that might surprise some children. Make sure the kids read them.”
To help raise awareness of the importance of student well-being, NAB is working with organisations such as SchoolTV – a world-first well-being platform featuring Dr Carr-Gregg.
SchoolTV – which complements the student program, MindMatters, extracts content from major organisations such as mental health service, ReachOut.
Dr Carr-Gregg said that SchoolTV allows schools to use technology to reach parents in a way that overcomes geographic and temporal barriers.
“It provides them with world class information delivered by Australia's foremost experts in the field of child and adolescent mental health, he said, adding the platform is “an essential component” of any school's well-being plan.
Pearson said student well-being is not just an issue for Australian schools.
“This is a societal issue as well,” he said.
“Helping improve student well-being will have benefits for society – not just for schools, students and parents.”