Landmark study looks to embed evidence-based mental health support in schools

Landmark study looks to embed evidence-based mental health support in schools

According to the World Health Organization, mental health disorders are one of the main causes of disability during adolescence. In Australia, almost a quarter of young people are psychologically stressed, yet many do not seek help.

Compounding this issue is the sad reality that while there is strong demand among teachers for evidence-based programs to improve students’ mental health, what is available is often quite limited, and of unknown efficacy.

According to past research, youth-reported barriers to seeking care include negative attitudes towards mental health challenges, peer rejection, lack of awareness of services available, and inadequate transport to services.

To address this, Monash University researchers have designed and launched the first randomised controlled trial to embed Mental Health Literacy in the Australian school curriculum.

The research outlines pathways to implementing a mental health literacy and action program, called Youth Education and Support (YES) program, which has demonstrated positive outcomes in the United States.

The Australian-adapted YES program covers topics of coping, mental illness, recovery, depression, anxiety, resilience, help seeking and support, stigma, impact of mental health challenges on families, value exploration, and goal setting.

Those heading the research, including PhD candidate Alexandra Marinucci, Dr. Christine Grove, and Dr. Kelly-Ann Allen, say it is not only a first for Australian Schools and for Australian education research, but could be “a future pillar of mental health support for the young”.

“The prevalence of psychological distress in young people has risen in the past 8 years and the pandemic has exacerbated mental health challenges,” Marinucci told The Educator.

“Generally young people have a low rate of seeking help and low levels of mental health knowledge. Without mental health literacy, young people may be unaware of what they are experiencing and that they may need to seek professional help.”

Marinucci said increasing mental health literacy is a preventative approach that can equip young people with the tools needed to obtain and maintain good mental health, and also reduce stigma that often surrounds mental illness.

Marinucci said principals have a major role in championing mental health initiatives within the school environment.

“As key decision makers, principals can liaise with students, teachers and mental health staff to determine how to best support youth mental health. Working with students using a collaborative approach is imperative to ensuring young people’s needs are met,” she said.

“Additionally, principals can promote mental health through including mental health literacy content within the curriculum, for example through a program such as Youth Education and Support.”