Across Australia, the youth mental health crisis is overwhelming schools, many of which are already overburdened with worsening staff shortages and rising workloads.
Surveys conducted in the wake of the COVID-19 found many schools are struggling to provide critical mental health support to young people who have been impacted by the disruption caused by the pandemic.
One organisation helping schools better manage their students’ mental health is Education Perfect (EP) – a curriculum aligned teaching and learning platform for years 5-12 for teachers and parents, which is used by 50,000 teachers in more than 3,000 schools across Australia.
Many of the teachers EP has been supporting have reported experiencing an increase in diagnosed mental health issues in their schools. These include a rise in challenges around attendance and engagement at school, social anxiety from lockdowns, eating disorders, self-harm, depression and sadly even suicide.
Gender diversity education is also another topic that is regularly raised – with a need for both teachers and many students to be educated on this topic. EP have also heard from schools that it is not uncommon for young people to wait up to six months to get in to see a healthcare professional in some states.
Below, Mel Wyatt EP’s Content Partnership Manager, tells The Educator about how teachers are navigating pressures related to youth mental health, and provide the tools to help their students thrive and can help teachers boost their confidence in the classroom.
TE: How are teachers coping with this added pressure in the classroom, during a time when there is also a teacher shortage crisis?
Many schools are implementing wellbeing programs in response, which is great – although, some are finding it difficult to get the teacher buy-in as time needs to be made in the school schedule, and this comes at the expense of class time. Alternatively, schools may opt for one-off programs, which are not as effective as continuous and regular curriculum on the subject.
Many teachers just don’t know what to do to help their students. They may try to identify individual students in need, requiring more 1:1 time and therefore leading to less time and capacity for the teacher to support/focus on all students. They may also turn to ‘easy’ options, such as meditations, which are a great resource. However, without the context and understanding of why meditation can help, students are often disengaged and find the exercises pointless. And let’s not forget the fallback pizza party to ‘tick the box’ on supporting students’ wellbeing!
TE: How important is it that teachers are provided with the tools they need to help them tackle mental health issues in the classroom?
It is more important than ever. Schools can play a really important role in educating students on mental health and wellbeing, and building a positive classroom environment.
- Part of FISO improvement model (VIC for eg)
- Leads to better student outcomes
- Leads to better student behaviour
- Part of general capabilities curriculum (i.e. must be taught)
However, unfortunately, only 14% of teachers in a recent poll of 86 teachers by Education Perfect said they were very confident in teaching mental health in the classroom.
We also know that depression and anxiety have a direct impact on learning outcomes; this is from a recent research study by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (2022*).
This highlights the need for early intervention through understanding mental health literacy. Not only is this important in the prevention of mental health problems but also in preventing learning loss.
TE: Please explain how EP are helping teachers on the very important journey to improve our children's wellbeing.
EP has launched the new Decode Mental Health & Wellbeing program to help educate teachers on mental health literacy and provide high quality resources for the classroom.
The resources are fully developed and are designed to help teachers build confidence in understanding and teaching what is good mental health (and what poor looks like), how to foster it, when to be concerned and when to support.
This is in partnership with Matterworks, a social edutainment studio and powered by research from Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, a global leader in child health and Australia’s most influential. It is recognised in the top three child health research institutes worldwide for research quality and impact.
Decode for Students is a course for Years 5-8 and includes 64 curriculum aligned video-based lessons. They feature talent (Tik Tok, YouTube and sport stars) that have real life stories that illustrate mental health concerns and provide actionable learning outcomes for children.
Decode for Teachers is a PD course (4.5 hours), aimed to support teachers to support students. It covers all the topics in the student program plus includes gender diversity + sexuality education and includes classroom hypotheticals.
*The Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, Learning outcomes in primary school children with emotional problems: a prospective cohort study. Published November 2022